Five Childcare Fixes that Must Happen NOW
Sometimes when I watch nature shows and see those animals who have kids that are self-sufficient in a matter of months I can’t help but be a bit jealous. Childcare is tough, but we all know little kids (and some big kids too) can’t be left alone. Meanwhile, parents need to work, bills need to get paid, and not everywhere is kid-friendly. We need better options, and we need them now. Here are five issues we must address immediately.
1. Childcare is revered but not respected
Like mothers themselves, caregivers are thought of as sweet souls who are the incarnate of femininity and patience. I don’t want to undersell how much patience is needed, but I know plenty of moms and lots of women who choose to care for little ones, and some are sweet and feminine, but many aren’t. That doesn’t mean they aren’t damn good caregivers either. While we love the idea of women who are called by biology to lovingly tend little ones, we don’t really respect women who do this work full-time. Like many “feminine” traits, we talk about the value the work but don’t really want to think of it as waged labor. Childcare providers have few to no legal protections under labor laws in most states and seldom make a livable salary. Find out if your state is one of them at www.domesticworkers.org.
2. Wages for Childcare Workers
I love my kids, but there were times I would have given one of my limbs for some time away from them. Fortunately for parents, we can often find a sitter for minimum wage. (I tend to pay much more even though I know many families can’t.) Like teachers who can’t afford to live in their home district, most childcare workers are barely able to make ends meet. Sadly, those that are least privileged get paid the least. This also means that most childcare centers experience very high rates of turnover and employee dissatisfaction. Respect goes some distance in helping women feel that their work is important, but a paycheck that covers their bills helps just as much if not more.
3. Rates for Childcare
While it may seem very strange that #2 and #3 are on the same list, it’s also true that many families really struggle to pay for the care they must secure in order to work. In 35 U.S. states childcare costs for two kids exceed housing costs, and with infant care being as high as $20k a year, few families can sustain the burden for long. Some women I interviewed were literally in the red at the end of year as a result of childcare costs. The only reasons they stayed at their jobs was for insurance and/or the long-term gains of not stepping away.
4. Fend for Yourself Model
We all know that fewer and fewer families have access to kin care due to grandparents working longer, being too old to care for young children, and/or living too far to make the set-up work. This means individual families are burdened with managing all the costs, logistics, and research individually. Too often childcare is secured by word-of-mouth, which isn’t entirely bad, but the lack of oversight and standards by which to compare different options leaves much to be desired. U.S. companies and our local and federal governments want people, including mothers, to work (as evidenced by the welfare to work programs) because it benefits them. But you know what else benefits them? Having a future generation of well-raised, capable people. There is little business and government want to do to make the hard work of raising future citizen workers easier despite prospering from the work families do day in and day out. That must change.
Businesses are slowly incorporating more flexible work schedules, but at the heart of it, shuffling kids from here to there is hard on the best of days, let alone when one or more is sick. Long work hours and commute times are incongruent with limited care hours, proximity to care, and mixed age kids needing different types of care. This forces too many families into one-on-one care, which is expensive yet rife with exploitation. Nanny shares are becoming more popular but are often challenging as it requires even more coordination and relationship management. Women nearly always manage this extra work, based on interviews I’ve completed and available data.
The truth is that childcare — as it stands right now in the U.S. — is a lose-lose-lose situation. Parents are paying rates they can’t afford, workers are mistreated and underpaid, and kids have to deal with high turnover and burnout of adults whom they have come to love and trust. We can do better for everyone involved. We must do better.