It’s Time for Congress to Help Parents Juggling Work and Child Care During COVID-19

COVID-19 has affected our lives profoundly, both professionally and personally. Among those severely affected are nonprofit organizations that are needed to continue to provide, and step up even more, critical services to sustain communities every day and when disasters strike. Fortunately, many nonprofits were able to quickly pivot to remote work, ensuring that staff members could continue vital mission work without risking their health. But COVID-19 exacerbated another challenge – a child care crisis.

Sixty percent of the nation’s licensed child care programs, many of which are nonprofits, have closed due to the pandemic, unable to sustain operations with diminishing enrollment. A third of child care workers nationwide have been laid off or furloughed, and the industry faces an estimated shortfall of $9.6 billion a month. Despite the critical service that providers offer as a fundamental community and civic structure, the child care system, as a whole, is at risk of collapse due to COVID-19’s health and economic impact.

A stable, affordable child care system serves as the foundation for a productive workforce, particularly in the nonprofit sector. Without it, a large proportion of talented nonprofit employees will be stretched thin, forced to reduce their hours or leave the workforce all together – damaging nonprofit missions and communities for years to come.

Dealing with Stress and Disparity

Parents who are fortunate enough to have avoided layoffs and continue working during COVID-19 face an additional daunting challenge, as those at Independent Sector (IS) can attest. How do you meet mission-critical job responsibilities, while simultaneously juggling care of non-school age children, while also often managing the school requirements (and wandering attention) of older children who are remote learning?

Lack of access to child care providers disproportionately affects working mothers, who often bear the brunt of child care responsibilities. Although 70 percent of women with children are in the labor force, the coronavirus has highlighted gender norms and structural sexism, with women becoming even more likely to take over domestic tasks in a work-from-home environment. The disparate impact on women particularly threatens nonprofit organizations and their capacity, since women comprise two thirds of nonprofit employees. Also, women who work in low-income or service positions, including at nonprofits, are likely to be the hardest hit.

“There are no more boundaries between work and home life,” said Katie Cattell, IS director of foundation relations. “I’ve had to accept that I can rarely put my full attention to any one thing. At the same time that I’m working on a proposal, I may also be making sure my 4-year-old is in his online pre-school class, while trying to figure out how teachers explain division to 8-year-olds now. I may stay up late with the intention of working on a presentation, but a kid having a nightmare has something else in mind! Having colleagues and a workplace that are understanding and flexible have been key to making this work, but even then, it’s totally exhausting.”

While working mothers may be the majority of the workforce, that in no way means working fathers escape the delicate, confounding balance of remote work and child care.

“While my colleagues have been amazing and accommodating when my 3-year-old ‘boss’ needs immediate attention,” said Habib Bako, IS director of community building, “making space for work, home life, and wellness has been challenging. Monitoring and limiting screen time have been challenging, as well. I dance to the beat of Peppa Pig!”

Nonprofit parents have been managing competing priorities of family and work for more than eight months with no end in sight. This untenable situation is contributing to unprecedented levels of stress, depression, and burnout among both parents and their colleagues. It also may drive parents to place their kids in child care sooner than they believe is safe, because they cannot continue as full-time employee and teacher.

“Early on in the pandemic, my husband and I had to navigate working from home, supporting a virtual learning environment for our pre-K-aged son, and caring for our two, day care-aged son and daughter,” said Danielle Powell, director of Leadership 18, an IS member and alliance of CEOs that focuses on human development and community relationships. “Let’s just say in those early months, there were a lot of tears – and not just from the kids! But I consider myself one of the fortunate ones. Both my husband and I worked from home. So, we were able to trade off school responsibilities and child care needs based on whatever meetings we had for the day. Of course, that often meant getting up at the crack of dawn or working late into the midnight hour.”

Calls for Emergency Relief

As COVID-19 cases rise again, another round of shutdowns may push even more child care providers to permanently close. When it is time for life to return to normal, parents employed at nonprofits still may not be able to resume full-time work because there are not enough safe, affordable child care spaces available in their community.

Congress is deliberating the details of another COVID-19 emergency relief package. One provision under consideration is a Child Care Stabilization Fund, which would help child care providers remain open and adopt healthy, safe practices to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Pamela Giller, vice president of growth and development at IS member, Communities In Schools, calls the need for support from Congress critical. “We need to acknowledge that parents have always had to juggle priorities – it’s just much more visible now that parenting and working is happening at the same time and place. Experience and data tell us that mothers are more likely to leave the workforce or put careers on hold when child care falls through. And as supervisors, many of whom are also parents, we need to go beyond acknowledging that this is hard. It’s important to have real child care alternatives available that support how and when work gets done to keep our working parents in the game.”

Please join Independent Sector and members of the Nonprofit Infrastructure Investment Advocacy Group (NIIAG) by taking two minutes to tell your federal legislators why our organizations, communities, and economy desperately need $50 billion to stabilize the child care system to keep running.

Types: Blog
Global Topics: Community, Congress, COVID-19 Response, Education, IS Member, Voices for Good
Policy Issues: Civil Society Infrastructure, Federal Budget & Fiscal Policy, Nonprofit Operations