Child Care Challenges: How Are Parents Managing in the Pandemic?

Last updated: 10-02-2020

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Child Care Challenges: How Are Parents Managing in the Pandemic?

Struggling with child care and virtual learning? You’re not alone. Here are a few suggestions on how to cope.

For many of us, the closing of schools and day care centers has created an awkward bind of needing to work, provide child care, supervise virtual schooling, as well as care for ourselves and tiny humans in the midst of troubling, uncertain, and confusing times.

While particularly difficult for single parents, all working caregivers are struggling with how to juggle it all. Keep reading to explore some options for child care as well as tips on how to work from home with kids if you are lucky enough to be able to do so.

For many families, school closures, hybrid models of partial in-person schooling and partial virtual learning, and limited day care options have necessitated at least one adult at home to supervise and care for children.

Often the options for parents are limited to shifting their working hours to nontypical business hours such as evenings, late at night, or weekends so that they can watch their kids. But that is only if their job allows that kind of flexibility. For some, the only options are taking paid or unpaid leave — or quitting.

According to August research by the U.S. Census Bureau, 1 in 5 working-age adults said they were not working because the pandemic derailed existing child care setups. About 32 percent of women ages 25 to 44 compared to 12 percent of men in the same age group are not working because of child care concerns.

It makes more financial sense for the lower wage-earning spouse to leave the workforce to care for children, and wives are the lower earning spouse in 70 percent of heterosexual married couple households. It is unclear what lasting impact the pandemic and resulting quarantine will have on women and their career trajectories.

Working parents have long relied on schools and after-school programs to keep children safe during and after school hours. Yet many schools are now closed, replaced with virtual schooling, and even teachers are unsure of when they will be able to reopen.

While some parents have the relative luxury ofworking from home, many other families of essential workers or hourly shift workers cannot. The following child care options are not unique to the pandemic, but they’ve certainly taken on a unique application now that virtual schooling has become the new norm.

Due to the pandemic and the need to care for family members, some folks are sharing quarantine with retired or older family members. While that in itself can be a burden, many multigenerational families can at least have their family members help care for their children during work hours.

For others the pandemic has limited their options for family care. Jen Chiou says she and her partner used to rely on their parents for in-person care. But now, the grandparents “can entertain the kids for a bit over FaceTime, [do] Cosmic Kids Yoga over Zoom, or help with Chinese homework but not child care during the pandemic.”

For working parents of younger children and babies, some day cares and preschools are cautiously reopening for limited students. If you are considering a day care or preschool, check for adherence to the to protect children, staff, and families.

The centers should have protocols in place to:

“My son is going to an in-person preschool 4 days a week, 3 hours a day. With both my husband and I working from home, and my daughter in school virtually, we needed support with our toddler,” creative director Brandi Riley shares. “I’m incredibly grateful that they are taking tremendous precautions to keep the kids and instructors safe and socialized while we get our work done.”

Some families with the means to do so are hiring nannies — especially live-in nannies — and au pairs and asking some to not only care for their children, but also to fill in some educational gaps, notes The New York Times.

Nannies with education backgrounds are in high demand. In some instances, the caregivers are asked to help guide younger school-age children in setting up virtual learning technology and deal with any issues arising from the online experience, as well as caring for non-school-age kids so that parents can either go to work or work from home without interruption.

American Academy of Pediatrics spokesperson Dr. Steph Lee advises setting symptom screening and mask expectations with in-home caregivers. “If you hire an au pair or nanny for your home, discuss face coverings for them,” Lee suggests. “Depending on the age of your child, it might be difficult to have face coverings at home, so ask for more outdoor activities when possible.”

She also points out that if the caregiver is showing any signs of illness they should not be working.

A nanny share is when two or more families share one nanny — either with the kids being watched together by one nanny, or the caregiver alternating days between the families.

“Before joining a pod, hiring teacher or a nanny, I would clarify where they each fall within a risk tolerance scale. Would you be comfortable with their choice of activities?” explains anesthesiologist Dr. Edna Ma.

“Your circle of six friends grows significantly once you map out who their contacts are. Even if you were in a bubble, you’re actually being exposed to a much broader germ pool.”

Some families have chosen to homeschool in either co-ops, microschools, or pandemic pods in order to provide both education and social interaction for their kids.

Microschools and pandemic pods generally hire a teacher for a small number of students of various ages, focusing more on individual learning and interests. Homeschool co-ops are when a few families decide to homeschool together and parents either pool resources to hire a teacher or alternate teaching responsibilities.

“If a family is looking at teaching pods, do not assume this means you can relax masking and COVID precautions. All children, teachers, and parents should still be wearing cloth face coverings if age 2 and up, as recommended by the AAP,” warned Lee.

She emphasized that though the number of people exposed to your child is less than in-person instruction, “The risk for COVID-19 is not zero.”

Other families have chosen to spend quarantine with one or more families, sharing in child care, possible living expenses, errands, and household chores.

For some arrangements, families remain in their own homes, alternating days they drop off children at each other’s houses, swapping child care and work hours and shifts. Other families have rented large houses in the middle of the countryside, pooled expenses, and worked out multifamily schedules, child care, schooling, work, and various considerations.

Finally, one possible solution that is likely not a first choice is for parents to work less, take a leave of absence (paid or unpaid), or to quit work altogether in order to care for children. “Among parents who are not actively looking for jobs, 59 percent cite caregiving as the reason why,” said Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) fellow Adrienne Schweer in a press release about a June BPC survey of 1,500 unemployment insurance recipients.

The survey reported numbers that are even more pronounced among parents of color: 55 percent of Hispanic and 44 percent of Black parents on unemployment insurance were not planning to return to work or had to turn down job offers due to child care needs.

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