Two reports commissioned by local nonprofit The San Diego Foundation and shared in April shed light on a continuing challenge for working parents: How to best navigate in an era in which the affordability and availability of childcare in San Diego County is a growing challenge.
The San Diego Foundation surveyed and conducted interviews with more than 850 San Diego families and 900 local childcare providers to look at the childcare needs issues and also to glean insight on what impact COVID-19 has made on working parents.
Among the data compiled from family respondents: 92 percent consider safe, reliable childcare crucial to their ability to work; 76 percent say finding affordable childcare in their area is an issue and 68 percent say that finding childcare for a full working day is an issue.
On the other side of the issue, 93 percent of the childcare providers in the county surveyed said that they had difficulty hiring qualified staff.
The reports showed that childcare availability is also concentrated in specific areas of the county, with some of the wealthiest zip codes having enough childcare spots and others with little to no available licensed care.
“The findings reveal a sector in crisis,” according to The San Diego Foundation’s report titled “San Diego County Childcare Landscape: An Analysis of the Supply and Demand.”
According to the other report, “Workforce, Childcare & Change: Understanding the Needs of Working Parents in the San Diego Region,” authored by Katie Rast, director of community impact for The San Diego Foundation, government, philanthropy, business, nonprofit and other partners “all have important roles to play in addressing this issue, and businesses are uniquely positioned to make an immediate, direct impact.”
Job Loss Just One of the Pandemic’s Impacts
The report also found that single parents were more likely to experience negative work-related impacts during the pandemic, such as shifting their schedule to care for children and/or experiencing decreased hours or job loss.
The annual cost of care for one infant in a licensed childcare center in San Diego costs more than $19,000. Care for one infant and one preschooler can cost $33,000 or more annually.
Additionally, families with one infant and one preschooler were found to need to spend a median of 40 percent of their income on childcare.
San Diego County has historically had a much smaller supply of licensed childcare than there are children who need care, the reports found, and the pandemic only made the gap larger as the childcare supply shrunk.
Combined with the high cost of childcare, the difficulty in finding care is forcing many working parents to disengage from the workforce.
Because of the dearth of available quality childcare options, some parents are forced to make difficult decisions, including how to and whether to stay engaged in the workforce or whether to care for their children, Rast said.
“The availability of quality, affordable childcare is critical to maintaining and growing San Diego’s workforce,” she added.
Some local businesses and nonprofits are finding ways to bridge the gaps and provide solutions to parents’ childcare needs – at a time when the region needs it most.
Businesses that support the hiring and retention of workers through flexible scheduling designed with working parents in mind is one way to make a direct impact. Including a competitive benefits program is another.
Some companies, understanding the complexities and costliness of childcare, are already on board.
BofA Showing Some Moxie
Jennifer Gallagher, senior vice president and market executive for Bank of America San Diego, said BofA offers flexibility in its benefits program that “extends to a variety of family situations and is inclusive for employees across a wide spectrum of needs.”
Gallagher said BofA’s benefits program includes maternity, paternity and adoption leave, reimbursement for family planning costs, such as adoption, fertility and surrogacy expenses.
During the pandemic, BofA offered its employees up to $100 per day for childcare (and also adult-care) needs, she said. Currently, employees may receive up to $275 per month per child for eligible expenses.
“We also offer flexibility as to who qualifies as a childcare provider, so relatives, neighbors and various community programs qualify,” she said. “Because most of us could use a little extra help, our benefits program offers no-cost access to experts who can provide support with a variety of issues.”
Gallagher said that it’s all working. “To date since the pandemic started, Bank of America employees have used more than 4.5 million days of adult and childcare services, which equates to $450 million in financial support,” she said. “These benefits are needed and are being used by our teammates.”
Innovative offerings offered by local nonprofits are also part of the needed change in the childcare landscape, Rast said.
She cited Social Advocates for Youth San Diego (SAY San Diego) which offers on-site childcare services for staff and the community, and YMCA of San Diego County’s “employer-supported childcare solutions program,” which partners with employers to nurture the needs of working parents, supporting them with childcare help.
The YMCA’s offerings include a specialized search within its database composed of more than 5,000 programs including childcare centers, home-based care, nanny agencies and license-exempt programs.
Kim McDougal, executive director of the YMCA Childcare Resource Service said the group’s support to employers includes building financial models to understand the fiscal impacts and building a tailored childcare benefits plan to meet each unique employer’s needs.
YMCA’s Reach Means It Can Do Some ‘Heavy Lifting’
McDougal said the YMCA’s reach could include working with Human Resources “to embed our childcare referral widget into the employer’s website,” providing enhanced childcare referrals for employees where YMCA staff “does the heavy lifting in sifting through provider matches for the family” and building a childcare voucher program where employers can contribute to the cost of care for their employees.
San Diego-based TOOTRiS, which offers a technology platform that allows parents and childcare providers to connect in real-time, is also stepping into the conversation. The company says it has more than 180,000 licensed childcare providers in its purview.
“We need to think differently,” said Alessandra Lezama, founder and CEO of TOOTRiS. “The childcare system has been broken for decades. It has failed our families, our communities and our economy. Employers must recognize that it is the highest yielding ROI when they invest in human capital. And in this case, it’s childcare as a benefit.”
Lezama said that childcare as a benefit is available for every size employer, “whether it’s Illumina or Qualcomm or Sam’s Taco Shop at the corner,” and that there is still “a lot to do to help incentivize and give parents, especially working women, the tools that they need.”
Rast acknowledges that “childcare is a regional challenge that is very complex and really requires a cross-sector approach.”
The data collected by Rast and her colleagues is part of The San Diego Foundation’s Early Childhood Initiative, which is dedicated to increasing access to affordable, quality early care for children in San Diego, strengthening families and supporting a competitive regional workforce.
“At The San Diego Foundation, we care deeply about early childhood education,” Rast said. “When we think about building long-term regional resilience, we recognize that children and parents having the care that they need is important. We must also acknowledge that childcare is an economic issue workforce issue. It’s a regional challenge that is very complex and require really does a cross sector approach.”
Rast said the reports reference a briefing by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, “Essential Care for Essential Workers,” that lists unique support services that employers can implement to support their staff, such as subsidies, backup care, childcare vouchers and flexible scheduling.
The San Diego Foundation
PRESIDENT/CEO: Mark Stuart
HEADQUARTERS: Liberty Station, Point Loma
BUSINESS: Community foundation
REVENUE: $12.88 million in FY 2021
NOTABLE: The San Diego Foundation’s “Workforce, Childcare & Change” virtual event held on April 28 can be accessed at 2022 Workforce, Childcare & Change Convening – YouTube