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Child care is getting more support from some private companies

Some corporations are opening up their doors to providing more support for child care.
Evgeniia Siiankovskaia
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Some corporations are opening up their doors to providing more support for child care.

Kayley Wolf is considering switching employers. But before leaving any job, she has to look at her child care benefits that help provide for her 6-month-old son.

"Child care benefits are important to me and can cause issues to future employment," Wolf says. "Child care in the United States is not cheap and not readily available."

In the midst of the pandemic, some in private industry have stepped up their child care benefits.

Companies started to provide on-site or near-site centers, expanded backup care, and provided flexible work schedules.

Wolf works at a biotechnology company. Her employer provides paid maternity leave, flexible work schedules, and a monthly maximum of $650 for up to two children in child care subsidies. During the pandemic, they expanded the subsidy from daycare services to in-home nannies. The company's headquarters are in Thousand Oaks, Ca., and Wolf is based in its Cambridge, Ma., office. Wolf does not want to identify the company.

"If I were in California at my current company they would also have daycare on-site that was subsidized," Wolf says.

Maribeth Bearfield, chief human resources officer at Bright Horizons, a U.S. child care provider, says the organization manages over 400 on-site child care centers in the United States. Also, over the course of 2020 and 2021, Bright Horizons launched 23 employer-sponsored centers and added over 225 back-up clients.

"I think what the pandemic did is that it really brought to light whether you're working in an office or you're working at home, you can't do it without somebody caring for your child," Bearfield says.

On-site centers that provide support

Recursion Pharmaceuticals, another biotechnology company, created an on-site center for its headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah. It launched in July.

Heather Kirkby, chief people officer at Recursion, says it was a resource their CEO Chris Gibson wanted all the employees to have when he founded the company in 2015.

"He knew that if we were going to found and scale this kind of company that he wanted to build, he didn't want to convince people to move here and then have them struggle with finding child care," Kirkby says.

A portion of the tuition is subsidized through the company, Kirby says. The center is also open to members of the community because it has not yet reached capacity with just its employees.

"There is just a child care shortage in Utah," Kirkby says. "It's the number one challenge for working women.

Rosemary Arriada-Keiper, vice president of global rewards at Adobe, the computer software company, says the company partnered with Cisco this summer to get Adobe employees at Cisco Life Connection child care center in San Jose.

The Cisco center was not having the same amount of enrollment as pre-pandemic. So, Cisco offered its services to Adobe employees at discounted rates.

Nina Perez, early childhood national campaign director of MomsRising, a non-profit organization that focuses on family economic security, says having the ability to have an on-site child care center is revolutionary.

Employers who have the capacity to build these centers should create space where they can bring in independent child care providers to the centers.

"I don't think folks should have to win the boss lottery to be able to access child care, particularly because some of the folks most impacted have the least resources," Perez says.

Backup care is on the rise

Backup care is when a company provides a certain number of days where their employees can seek child care or elderly care if their regular plan falls through.

Major League Baseball (MLB) partnered with Bright Horizons during the pandemic and launched a backup program in August. This allowed employees to access any Bright Horizon center in their area and use SitterCity for in-home nannies or tutoring.

Diane Cuddy, vice president of human resources at Major League Baseball (MLB), says parents were the biggest proponents.

"They ended up being great partners in helping us investigate different options," Cuddy says. "We heard what they were looking for... so I think it worked out really well by having their input."

Arriada-Keiper says Adobe also partners with Bright Horizons to offer 20 days a year of fully-funded backup care. Employees located in areas without Bright Horizons centers receive a daily $100 stipend for 20 days a year.

"We really believe that in order for people to do their best work, [parents] need to be their best all the time," Arriada-Keiper says.

Employees must pay for services out of pocket after the 20 days, but they still get a discount. Through Adobe directly, employees can also apply for $1,200 a year to help offset costs.

Kate Rosenbaum, a mother of a 1-year old son, said she and her husband work full-time. Her husband works at Duke University, where they offer employees a 5% discount at a daycare program near their house.

"We got a reasonably good deal compared to other places in the country, like I think for three days we are paying around $800-850 [monthly]," Rosenbaum says. "It would be closer to $1300, I think, if we were full time and that is with the discount."

The cost is still very high. She says the price for full-time care would be more than her mortgage.

Child care benefits that go beyond in-person care

Many companies began providing virtual programs for children, expanded flexibility for their employees, and grants to help families in need.

David Almeda, the chief people officer at UKG, says the company launched new virtual programs. It offers virtual summer camps, for example.

The company also gave all their employees worldwide unlimited access to, a company that connects students to tutors online.

"Many took advantage of this because it was a way to give parents a break," Almeda says. "And surprisingly there were just as many takers for these programs in the younger grades as in the older grades."

Almeda says employees can opt for a stipend for up to $750 a year for child care, or $300 a year in reimbursement for eligible extracurricular activities for kids under 18.

The company also established in 2020 the PeopleInspired Giving Fund, a 501(c)(3) that is dedicated to provide financial assistance to UKG employees. The foundation has been able to provide more than $325,000 in direct relief to support over 100 UKG employees and families in need.

Recursion Pharmaceuticals, Kirkby says, granted fairly substantial bonuses to all their employees to help them make choices based on their needs. She would not disclose the bonus amounts.

Kirkby said a lack of flexibility from companies holds back many women from working. Recursion allows employees to work 60% of their time remote.

"You hear a lot of companies telling people they will come back to the office three days a week and I'll be candid... that falls a little flat for me," Kirkby says. "It assumes we are going to work in the construct of days and it assumes three days works for everyone, but not every day is the same, not every week is the same."

Maryam Al-Zoubi is the mother of 10-month-old twins and works at a law firm in Raleigh, N.C. She says her firm allows her to work from home as much as she needs.

"The thing about working remotely is that it is good if there are emergencies," Al-Zoubi says. "In day care nowadays anytime a child gets a cold, [parents] have to take them out of day care and get a COVID-19 test, wait a few days, so having flexible remote is extremely important for that."

Al-Zoubi says for two infants she would have to pay about $20,000 in her area.

Perez says it has been 50 years since President Richard Nixon vetoed the Comprehensive Care Act in Dec. 1971, a bipartisan bill that would have created a universal, quality-care system.

"The failure to pass that bill by that president means that families have never had a problem to recover generationally," Perez says. "50 years ago is when we were last talking about this and we should not be talking about this 50 years from now."

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Camila Beiner
Camila Beiner is NPR's National Desk intern.