Stakeholders Share Childcare Challenges, Solutions
Business leaders, childcare professionals, and experts shared their challenges and solutions to improve Connecticut’s childcare system at two recent forums.
The state’s Blue Ribbon Panel on Childcare held a pair of business listening sessions July 20 at Sonalysts, Inc. in Waterford and at The Jackson Laboratory in Farmington to better understand key employee issues and identify steps to address those challenges.
Gov. Ned Lamont established the panel to develop a strategic plan to design the next generation of childcare in Connecticut.
“We wanted to create a panel with really diverse representation from the business community, public policymakers, early childhood providers, community leaders to really be able to kind of look at the full scope of challenges facing the childcare system,” said SVP Connecticut executive director Mark Argosh.
Addressing the shortage of affordable, quality childcare is critical to resolving Connecticut’s labor shortage.
“One of the challenges that families face in order to go to work, and they think about where they are going to live, education, and childcare,” said Office of Early Childhood commissioner Beth Bye.
“We’re saying this matters to businesses, because workforce is such a key issue.”
According to recent data from the Bipartisan Policy Center, 38% of parents said childcare responsibilities impacted their ability to work.
Fifty-six percent of parents factored childcare into their decision on whether to accept a job.
And 38% cited childcare as a reason for leaving their job altogether.
“When you talk to the employee, childcare is a huge challenge for them, a huge impact for them, and therefore it is a huge impact on the employer,” said CBIA president and CEO Chris DiPentima.
Impact on Families, Women
“People are making decisions for their family based on the cost, said Dominion Energy state policy director Susan Adams.
“Some of them are choosing not to grow their family because they just feel they can’t afford it.”
DiPentima highlighted the impact childcare challenges have on women in the workforce.
Overall, the state’s labor force participation rate is 64.1%, 20th best in the country. However, it’s 70% for men and 60% for women.
“There’s an opportunity to identify solutions where we could fill those workforce needs by getting the labor participation rate for women up to where it is for men,” DiPentima said.
“We know childcare is really the main main factor behind that. And that’s not just childcare opportunities, but the flexibility in the workplace, flexible hours, and other benefits that women seek to get back into the workforce.”
Sarah Savage, senior policy analyst and advisor with the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, highlighted that improving childcare is a multidimensional issue.
“I think all of our brains go to this as a cost issue, this is an affordability issue,” she said. “It’s not the only issue.
“It’s not just an affordability issue, because even in a world where high quality childcare were free, if it doesn’t align with the times parents need or the location they need it still may be inaccessible.”
“People struggle to find affordable childcare, childcare that’s near where they live or work,” said Pfizer site affairs lead Liz Power.
“We have shifts,” said InCord president and CEO Meredith Shay. “We had a lot of people who chose to work the first or second based on what their spouse was working.
“We’ve also had a lot of challenges with grandparents, who leave the workforce so that they can support their daughter or their son’s family.”
From a provider perspective, Savage noted that what parents pay, or what providers are reimbursed for subsidized slots isn’t enough to cover the true cost of quality care.
“There are barriers to operating childcare businesses, and I think figuring out what those pain points are is important when thinking about solutions,” she said.
Jennifer Zubek, executive director of the Riverfront Children’s Center, noted the high cost of providing childcare and difficulty of hiring and maintaining quality workers.
“We can’t attract them with these fancy benefits like other employers might be able to so we can’t offer phenomenal health insurance,” she said.
“I think that’s part of the reason that we’re not seeing people return to the workforce.
“We’ve talked to a lot of people in higher ed and they’re saying ‘we’re seeing numbers drop,’ as far as students that are enrolling to go into early childhood, so then it becomes a challenge of who we’re hiring aren’t always the most qualified.”
“If kids aren’t having high quality early learning experiences, you’re not getting optimal outcomes for those kids,” added Bye.
Several of the solutions discussed centered on public-private partnerships.
That included a cost-sharing model where parents, employers, and the state each pay a third of childcare costs.
The recently passed two-year budget increased Connecticut’s human capital investment tax credit to up to 25% for childcare-related expenses, including subsidizing employees for childcare or building, renovating, or acquiring childcare facilities.
Stakeholders talked about expanding access to quality care, and growing the labor pool to staff childcare facilities.
They also discussed workplace flexibility.
That included hybrid or remote work possibilities and scheduling meetings around when parents need to get their children to school or daycare.
“What we hear from our employees is that having this flexibility has transformed their lives, not only with childcare” said Shipman & Goodwin managing partner Leander Dolphin.
The panel will present its five-year strategic plan in December.
“There’s not a one size fits all, not a broad brush,” said DiPentima.
“It’s not like when we go to the state Capitol and say just lower taxes, that’s good for businesses.
“This is an area where we need to solve the childcare crisis but there’s a lot to it and a lot of moving parts.”
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