As a mother, there's no lesson in the unfairness of parenting quite like talking to friends and family who cannot secure childcare in their rural towns. It's not so much that it’s been easy for me to find care providers in my hometown of Los Angeles. Quite the opposite, in fact — so much so that I founded my own company to help working parents find, secure, and pay for childcare. But knowing my loved ones who live in smaller cities face a multitude of childcare challenges on top of the current childcare crisis highlights a broken system.
The reality is that most Americans live in communities that don’t offer quality, affordable childcare.
These childcare deserts are an enormous problem. Many parents can’t find childcare on short notice, and others have to travel several miles to drop off their kids — or pay more than they can afford. This means there simply aren’t enough childcare options for working families — and the result is more parents dropping out of the workforce, or struggling to balance working full-time and raising young children.
I realize that it can be difficult for companies based in big cities to understand the realities of everyday life in small-town America. But the stark truth is that compared with their suburban and urban counterparts, the 1.1 million rural families with young children face a multitude of challenges that impact their childcare outlook. These obstacles include lack of transportation, inadequate employment opportunities, and less higher education access.
The situation is especially dire during our current childcare crisis environment.
Childcare Benefits Help Solve the Childcare Crisis
As a parent, you want your kids to be happy. And as an employer, you want your employees to have the support needed to take care of their families. Flexible childcare benefits do just that.
Specifically programs customized to each family's needs, that are designed to be affordable, that accommodate real work hours, and serve children of all ages. A flexible childcare benefits program not only brings care to working families in rural areas it is also beneficial for both employees and employers.
Fortunately, more employers nationwide are taking action by implementing childcare benefits for employees to address the acute childcare concerns facing rural working families:
- Andre Joyner, Chief Human Resources Officer at JCPenney, shared his thoughts on the impact that employer-sponsored childcare benefits can have across their organization: half of JCPenney employees signing up for WeeCare’s childcare benefits program reside in cities with a population under 100,000 people.
- Dollywood is another organization utilizing WeeCare’s childcare benefits to support their geographically unique workforce.
Designing the Right Childcare Benefits Program for Rural Families
For any employer considering employee childcare benefits, there are a number of factors to weigh during the planning process. Everything from employee population, specific childcare needs, and ease of implementation must be considered.
WeeCare works with organizations to drill down to what really matters for their employees, helping customize the most effective childcare benefits for their teams.
When I talk with families and organizations in rural areas, a few childcare benefit requests often come up:
- Location: Most traditional childcare centers are located in cities, with few daycares found in neighborhoods. Home daycares are a great alternative for on-site centers because their care is more personalized and, most importantly, located near where families live and work.
- Flexible hours: Working families have childcare needs outside of the 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. hours that many daycare centers operate. Employers play a key role here in offering a childcare benefits program that features childcare options with flexible hours, including evening and weekend care. According to research on rural maternal employment, women living in rural regions work disproportionately in low-paying, part-time positions. Because of this, they may be more likely than urban mothers to need multiple jobs with long or nonstandard hours in order to support their families.
- Childcare for children of all ages: The need for childcare doesn’t stop when a child enters kindergarten. childcare needs don’t stop when the bell rings at 3 pm. In fact, that’s when their childcare struggle starts.
- Affordable care: Organizations can support their working parents by helping them access an expansive childcare network with affordable options and/or offering a childcare stipend, or subsidy, to offset employees’ childcare costs. Finding a childcare network featuring home daycare providers (which can be up to 40% less expensive than large daycare centers) can go a long way to address working parents’ affordability concerns.
WeeCare has helped businesses across the country by providing childcare to all Americans, in urban, suburban, and rural communities. This improves the economy by boosting employee mental health, productivity & job satisfaction, and supports women in the workforce.
The childcare crisis is bigger than any rural-urban divide. I realize we aren't going to resolve these issues overnight. It's going to take time, hard work, and a sea change, with a majority of employers providing childcare benefits.
Let's work together to support rural working families in a tangible way. Let’s make childcare truly accessible to all.