Back-to-school season looks different this year. Many schools across the country are starting with online-only learning or in a hybrid capacity. Schools that started with children and staff onsite are already seeing COVID-19 cases and closing their doors. Working parents who rely on school not just to educate their children, but also as childcare, are understandably scrambling to come up with solutions that work for their families.
The solutions being considered by working parents range from dropping out of the workforce entirely to the hotly debated learning pod in which a small group of parents hire a private teacher or take turns homeschooling their kids. These solutions are expensive, especially for women, whose careers are disproportionately harmed by childcare challenges.
Fortunately, there’s another solution, and it’s one that’s been there all along—your trusty neighborhood daycare.
While public schools might be closed, childcare providers are open for business. According to recent data collected by my company Winnie, as many as 75 percent have spaces for school-age children and can support their distance learning. With over 200,000 licensed providers across the United States, there are likely great options within walking distance or a short drive from your home or child’s school.
While there is a cost, group childcare is much more affordable than a private tutor. The average cost of full-time childcare in a home daycare in the US is $800 per month, or $400 per month for part-time care. Many are also set up to accept subsidies and meal programs, making them more accessible to families in need. Providers are required to be background checked, vaccinated, maintain small ratios and meet a slew of other requirements including new procedures around sanitization in light of COVID-19.
It’s a common misconception that daycare is just for babies and toddlers. Most states automatically license in-home providers to care for children up to age 12. Some states have certain restrictions to ensure that in-home providers are not watching school-age children during the hours while school is in session, but during the pandemic this is being allowed in most locations. You can check with your local Child Care Resource and Referral (CCR&R) agency to understand the specific regulations in your area.
Daycare providers are well-equipped to support older kids’ learning and many of them already have experience doing so in their before- and after-school care programs. The kind of support daycares provide runs the gamut. Some centers are are opening fully equipped computer labs for school-age kids with dedicated staff while others are simply providing a quiet workspace with internet connection and some light support with assigned schoolwork.
It’s important to recognize that daycare does not come without risk. The good news is that daycare centers and home-based daycares have some social distancing built in by default. Licensed daycares have always operated with limited capacity in order to maintain low teacher-to-student ratios. A public school might have 20 to 25 students in one classroom, but a daycare rarely has a class with more than 10 children in it, and even fewer for home-based providers. Data also suggests that daycare settings do not have more incidence of COVID-19 than the general population.
According to a recent study by the Urban Institute, more than one-third of US families have already reported that an adult left the workforce to care for a child during the pandemic. The strain on working parents right now is unprecedented, but childcare providers across the country are stepping up to meet this need for working families. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution to this crisis, daycares are a great, accessible option that you are probably overlooking.
Sara Mauskopf is the CEO and Co-founder of Winnie, a marketplace for daycare and preschool helping over 7 million parents across the United States.