How are families doing during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Earlier this year, we created a survey to ask them. Many parents said they were struggling to juggle work, child care, and children who were attending school from home.
Last month, Strategies for Children followed up with another survey that found many parents were struggling to make child care arrangements for the fall. This survey was conducted by Beacon Research, a Boston-based polling firm, and funded by the Commonwealth Children’s Fund and Eastern Bank Charitable Foundation.
Hearing from parents is an essential step.
“Parent voices are critical to reopening and sustaining the child care industry,” Amy O’Leary, the director of Strategies for Children’s Early Education for All Campaign, says. “This survey shows that parents have legitimate concerns over health and safety. Many parents cannot return to child care because their programs have closed permanently, are not yet reopened, or are at full enrollment.”
A press release and a slide deck summarize the survey’s results. This document lists the survey’s questions and tallies parents’ answers. And a memo focuses on the child care challenges for families with school-age children.
Among the survey’s key findings, parents’ fears have risen. Before the pandemic, 76 percent expected to use child care programs this fall. Since the pandemic, only 62 percent do.
Parents’ top concern, that utilizing child care could threaten their children’s health. Beacon found that 81% say a child’s health is a major factor in deciding on childcare arrangements.
• parents report that, because of the pandemic, their preferred provider hasn’t reopened or is out of business
• parents are very concerned that children who don’t go to child care programs could face negative social, health, and learning consequences, and
• working parents are worried that their job performance will suffer as they patch together child care arrangements
The lack of quality child care for working families will certainly impact the economy; 79% of parents are concerned they will not be able to work without formal care arrangements, and 76% indicate that their quality of work will suffer.
Child-care related challenges are disproportionately impacting women, who bear the brunt of child caring responsibilities. Only 44% of employed women report that their employer is offering flexible work hours, and only 13% have access to paid family leave.
There’s also a tough balancing act for the parents who have both a child under six and a school-age child. Of these respondents, 52% were dependent on what schools would do for their older children before they could make their child care arrangements for both children.
As the child care and schools memo explains, “Household incomes under $60,000 are especially dependent on school schedules. Six-in-ten (62%) households with incomes under $60,000 are entirely or mostly dependent, compared to half (48%) of households with incomes of $60,000 or more.”
To address this challenge, “We need more collaboration between local leaders, public school districts, and child care programs.” O’Leary says.
Responding to this need, Governor Baker issued an executive order on August 28, allowing EEC-licensed programs to expand their licenses to serve children during the school day in remote and hybrid-learning settings. This new flexibility should offer families some support.
Not surprisingly, the survey also found demographic differences in families’ responses. Higher income families are more likely to consider hiring a nanny or a babysitter or hire a teacher and set up their own learning pods. In addition, white families are more likely to hire a nanny or babysitter.
Though fewer families of all backgrounds anticipate utilizing childcare now than they did before coronavirus, this is especially so for Latino families (from 54% in March to 35% this fall).
Latino and Black households opting out of child care this fall, place an increased emphasis on three factors: a household member is high-risk for coronavirus, our preferred program has closed permanently, and we are on a waiting list for a childcare subsidy.
For all households, minimizing coronavirus exposure risk, preferring to have family or friends provide childcare, and childcare programs are unaffordable for our family are top factors for foregoing formal childcare this fall.
Mental health is also a priority. When given “a list of concerns that have been raised about keeping young children at home instead of going to childcare because of the pandemic,” 84% agreed that children’s mental health would suffer, and 78% agreed that parents’ mental health would suffer. The top concern (89% agreeing) was that children would not have opportunity for socialization.
Beacon’s survey also highlights some potentially good news. In a time when accurate information is crucial, parents say that the source they trust most are their pediatricians. This finding suggests that there are opportunities for child care programs to work more closely with pediatricians to help families make more informed choices.
We will continue to check in with parents and share their experiences with policymakers, educators, and the public. After all, child care policy will be most effective if it is designed to meet the actual needs and preferences of families.
If you would like more information about the survey, please contact Titus DosRemedios, director of research and policy at Strategies for Children, at email@example.com.