Reimagining Childcare Through Innovative Partnerships

Childcare is essential for employers and working families alike. Innovative approaches in the private sector have led to new opportunities for working families and employers to connect with childcare providers; however, additional attention and investment from state and federal governments are necessary to create a childcare system that meets everyone's needs.

At the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, we're deeply invested in these issues. That's why we hosted "Talent Forward: Breaking Childcare Barriers" earlier this month—the fourth event in our Talent Forward virtual series—convening business and policy experts to examine some of the most pressing questions families, childcare providers, and the business community are asking, and develop solutions to those questions.

As Cheryl Oldham, senior vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, said at the event: "Like never before, childcare is the issue that everyone is talking about—be it media covering the topic, employers strategizing how to support their employees, childcare providers making tough decisions about their businesses, or parents wrestling with the uncertainty of what’s to come." 

Here are our biggest takeaways from the event:

The Need for Quality, Affordable Childcare is Urgent for Both Parents and Employers

During our first panel, we heard from Alessandra Lezama, Founder and CEO of childcare platform TOOTRiS and Lilia Vergara, Director of Human Resources at Dr. Bronner's, which offers TOOTRiS services to its employees. Both experts emphasized how, particularly in today's tight labor market, there's a high cost to replacing valuable employees, especially for small businesses—meaning talent retention is essential. Forward-thinking organizations must invest in the wellbeing of their employees, including their childcare needs. 

When Vergara's team is interviewing new potential employees, she said the top questions they receive are about healthcare and childcare benefits. Similarly, Dr. Bronner's has seen lower turnover and continued growth for the company after implementing childcare into its benefits package; employees are more likely to stay if they feel supported at work, and that includes feeling supported as parents or caregivers.

As Lezama said, "Childcare is not just a family issue, it’s a business issue."

Innovative Partnerships Can Revolutionize Childcare

TOOTRiS and Dr. Bronner's have partnered to offer high-quality, flexible childcare options for employees. These kinds of innovative partnerships in the private sector lead to new opportunities for both employers and working parents.

Local chambers can also invest in innovative partnerships by helping families and employers communicate with one another and achieve mutually beneficial solutions. When the local business community is aware of the needs of both employers and working parents, it can help them develop the best possible options for childcare.

Finally, partnership across partisan lines will be key to restructuring the policies that shape our childcare system. While private-sector innovations are important for reimagining childcare, public investment is also needed. At our second panel, we heard from two public policy experts—Laura Kaloi of Stride Policy and Abby McCloskey of McCloskey Policy—who emphasized that small- and medium-sized businesses are hit hardest from childcare interruptions and would benefit most from a robust childcare system. To support these businesses, employees need quality childcare, an issue with strong bipartisan support.

State and Local Governments Have a Big Role to Play

Kaloi and McCloskey pointed out that childcare policy isn’t just an issue for lawmakers in D.C.; state-level stipulations and regulations shape how childcare providers are funded and operated. State and local governments can support increasing the supply and addressing the demand for childcare by streamlining the processes for providers of all sizes to meet the needs of employers and families.

The federal government can also support childcare innovation by creating an environment where all types of providers (home-based, for-profit, non-profit, religiously affiliated, and center-based) have an equal playing field. Reimagining a childcare framework that works for everyone will require short-, medium-, and long-term attention and investment at all levels of government.

There's No Silver Bullet—But There Are Many Opportunities

As we grapple with the ongoing pandemic and the uncertainty it brings to the workforce, including return-to-office plans, the need for quality, affordable childcare has never been more evident for both parents and employers. While no single policy, program, or solution will be a silver bullet, quality childcare has bipartisan support, and innovative approaches are expanding new opportunities for providers, parents, and employers.

Looking ahead, policymakers and business leaders alike should consider how we can improve incentives for businesses to help provide childcare, and how we can directly support families to help them find the provider that meets their needs, regardless of where they work.