The pandemic has altered nearly every aspect of our lives. For some, the impacts have been detrimental. People experienced every kind of loss from family to jobs to homes.
While the entire world had to overcome new hurdles and learn to cope with difficult situations, families felt like they struggled the most with child care.
Working parents have been open about the stress of balancing work, family responsibilities and the mounting pressures of child care or lack of. Date nights became obsolete, and the peace of mind that daycare and after-school programs provided vanished.
Having small children meant becoming a full-time caregiver for some parents, which was an entirely new challenge. Carefully designed family care systems were now in complete and utter chaos as parents scrambled to find or provide care for their children.
Pre-pandemic, there were an estimated 12 million children registered in child care services throughout the U.S. The rate may seem significant, but the realization is that the industry has been on a downward spiral. Child care providers are short-staffed, underpaid, and overworked.
Then COVID-19 hit, and schools shut down, daycares closed their doors everywhere. Any daycare that managed to stay open did so on thin budgets and meager class sizes. It is no shock that businesses became even more understaffed after the pandemic started because people avoided all risks of coming into contact with the virus.
What were parents left to do in a global pandemic with a child-care crisis on the rise?
It's not like the whole world had the option to telework, and even if they did, have you ever tried being on a work call with your toddler running rampant in the background. It can make things quite challenging.
In a recent survey from Pew Research Center, 43 percent of working parents had jobs they could perform at home while 57 percent still had to go to an office or professional setting.
The working parents who didn't have a telework option had to make drastic decisions, including leaving their children at home unsupervised when they went to work. A surprisingly large number of countries recently reported parents would leave their child under the age of five in the care of their sibling who was not older than ten.
Leaving children at home brings on new risks and concerns as to what could happen to the children in an emergency or life-threatening situation. Children, in general, are not equipped to handle these situations, and research shows that children left unsupervised or home alone exhibit higher levels of stress, anxiety and boredom.
It was a difficult choice, but some families were already on the brink of financial disaster and losing their job or business was not an option.
Lucky parents chose to do the opposite and took their children to work with them. Children weren't thrilled to become their parent's unpaid coworkers overnight. They were in uncharted territory, and neither party was happy about it.
As child-care providers also struggled with financial losses, they, in turn, increased rates for services by 87 percent. According to a recent survey from Care.com, 72 percent of families reported they paid more now for child-care than before the pandemic started.
Families who did not suffer from financial setbacks were spending more on child-care than ever before. Researchers estimate that ten percent of a family's income gets spent on child-care services. Child care is deemed 'affordable' when families spend less than seven percent of their total income on services.
Parents in low-income households were already struggling to feed and clothe their children; the new high cost of child-care was not an option they could afford.
Grandparents who seemed like a temporary solution for families' child care needs quickly fizzled out because of the tight restrictions and social distancing measures. Families found it unworkable and quite stressful.
Other parents who could opt for daycare chose to keep their kids at home as an added precaution to reduce the risk of being exposed to COVID-19. Research from a Joint Economic Committee reported that 13 percent of parents who chose to keep their children at home over going to daycare had to reduce their work hours by at least a minimum of one entire workday.
Mental health was another issue, and it took a backseat for some parents as they tried to cope with the obstacles they were facing. Research from FormsPal concluded that parents who struggled with child-care are at a higher risk of developing other illnesses like depression and anxiety.
We need to help our communities by providing as much support as possible. It doesn't just start and end with child-care policies and funding. It also goes hand in hand with working parents' employer policies. Many employers forced parents to quit when they dished out ultimatums to either come to work or care for their children.
If you think the problem ends with parents and child care providers and has no impact anywhere else, think again.
Newton taught us before that for every action, there is an opposite and equal reaction. When any industry struggles, we all struggle.
The child-care crisis will continue to deliver financial blows to local, national and global economies.
The current market has a 99 billion dollar impact on the U.S. economy alone, so it is paramount to the future of our financial system that it recovers quickly. If not, we will continue to see the ripple effect trickle down to our communities.
Industries that could see a negative impact from the child-care crisis include:
Economies depend on the child care industry to create employment opportunities, support working families and generate revenue.
The problem is that the child care system has been overlooked for a very long time, and our economies will continue to suffer, this wasn't just a pandemic issue, but it did help expedite the crisis.
States ultimately need better funding to help ensure all families have access to safe child-care services, and parents need better resources.
We have our work cut out for us and have a long way to improve child care standards.