Working parents are all too familiar with the challenges of balancing career pressures with the demands of raising young children. In the struggle to juggle both, childcare is a crucial, and pressing, concern. That’s why The Child Care Council of Westchester, Inc., fields some 3,500 calls each year from working parents looking for childcare referrals, says Kathy Halas, the Council’s executive director.
“We get many calls from working parents scrambling because their provider isn’t reliable or an informal care arrangement fell through. We also hear from parents who are looking for care for the first time, so they can go back to work. They want to know how to find a provider, what questions to ask, and how to choose the best place for their child,” Halas says.
Less obvious, however, are the implications for area businesses when parents are grappling with childcare challenges. Childcare breakdowns are one of the biggest barriers to employee productivity, according to Halas, who points to The Child Care Action Campaign’s estimate that US companies lose $3 billion annually due to childcare-related absences. “When a worker can’t get in to work because childcare arrangements fall through, other workers have to cover, completion timelines are pushed back, outputs can suffer. Productivity can also be impacted if an employee is distracted, worrying about a child’s safety, progress, or happiness if care is substandard or unreliable,” Halas explains.
The Child Care Council of Westchester does its part by working to make high-quality, affordable childcare a reality for Westchester families. Part of a state and national network of childcare resource and referral agencies, the Council links families to childcare options; supports more than 750 childcare providers and programs with training, technical assistance, and resources; and maintains numerous partnerships with various Westchester community organizations.
But businesses can help, too, Halas says. “Human capital is every business’s greatest asset…it makes sense for companies to consider childcare-related services when trying to attract and retain employees,” she notes. “Employers that provide childcare information [and] services are among those most likely to be paying attention to overall quality of life for employees, a factor that contributes to positive employee relations and a positive feeling about the business within the community.”
Companies that do a good job providing childcare information and assistance not only keep their employees happy, but may also gain a competitive advantage when seeking employees, says Westchester HR consultant Greg Chartier, who leads the Business Council of Westchester’s Human Resources Council. “It shows employees that they care about women’s issue and about also employee issue overall; it’s sends the message to employees that the company is going to do the right things,” he explains, adding that employees with satisfactory child care arrangements “come to work more regularly…and do a better job while they are there.”
So, what exactly can and should employers do to help working parents ease the burden of finding reliable, affordable childcare so they can maximize their hours in the office? Halas suggests the following:
• Employers can connect their workers to The Child Care Council’s free childcare resource and referral services, which can not only help parents find and evaluate care options, but also include info on tax credits, the public childcare subsidy program, and Council childcare scholarships.
• Employers can also offer flexible spending plans for childcare, called dependent care assistance plans (DCAP), which allow for pre-tax dollars up to $5,000 annually to be set aside for childcare expenses. While many employers offer DCAPs as part of a suite of benefits, they often do not sufficiently promote these plans or educate workers on their benefits.
• There’s also the option for employers to pay childcare centers for preferred spots in order to reserve availability for their employees.