Crying in the closet, ending sibling fights, zoom glitches. Maria Hess takes care of everything while taking care of three children ages 9, 11 and 13 while working from home.
Hess, partner in the Seattle startup studio Madrona Venture Labsknows that she is lucky. Other families face challenges such as layoffs and potentially life-threatening diseases due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But like many working parents, she is at a loss when schools are closed, summer camps are canceled and there are few childcare options available.
"We had cereal or pancakes for dinner more often than I would like to admit," said Hess, a single parent.
Madrona Venture Labs is part of a larger entrepreneurial movement that is addressing this growing social problem. Weekdays, a recent spinout from the studio, is one of several companies developing new solutions to help parents and families deal with the aftermath of the COVID 19 crisis. The company launched a service that brings technology in-home vendors with parents earlier this year and has seen increased demand in recent months.
Connected: Technology leaders in Seattle are publishing a guide to help employers support working parents and caregivers during the COVID 19 crisis
Since the outbreak of the coronavirus in the United States, parents have been faced with the Herculean task of staying at work between feeding, entertaining and raising their children. Many daycare centers are temporarily closed. As soon as they open again under strict security guidelines Some parents are concerned that they may send their children back and may get sick.
That could lead some providers to it permanently closed due to lack of income in a traditionally low-margin business.
Other parents simply cannot afford the cost of a nanny or day care center, especially with shaky job security. Asking grandparents for help is problematic because older generations are at higher risk of serious illness.
The result is a childcare crisis that affects both parents and childcare workers and could cause problems across the country.
A deepening inequality
Depending on the offer of providers and whether schools will remain closed in the fall, the crisis could force parents to quit their jobs so they can take care of their children. A burden that some say unjustifiably affects working women.
This also leads to an inequality between work colleagues, as those without children can plan longer, uninterrupted hours when ordering accommodation while parents are constantly distracted at home.
The situation is even worse for poorly paid workers or those who cannot do their jobs from home, such as: For example, an Amazon warehouse worker or a Microsoft shuttle bus driver.
Leading voices like Melinda Gates say the problem will "affect our country's ability to reopen safely".
America's care system was already broken. Now it threatens our country's ability to reopen safely.
To ensure a rapid and inclusive recovery, governments, leaders and investors need to act. pic.twitter.com/bPJtCLi8qz
– Melinda Gates (@melindagates) May 18, 2020
In a comment by The Washington Post Earlier this month, Gates discussed working women and the childcare crisis.
"The data shows us that unpaid care work for women in their households is actually one of the biggest obstacles to equal opportunities in the workforce," Gates wrote. "After the pandemic, they run the risk of falling back even further."
Gates also urged Congress to adopt a national policy on paid family and sick leave, and said that distance learning policies "if maintained, could improve employment and retention of female workers in the long term."
This woman closed her shop and fired her 13 employees because her husband said he could not stand being the main guardian for their 3-year-olds. 😐🥴🤦🏾♀️
– Stacey E. Singleton (@staceyNYCDC) May 23, 2020
Challenges for daycare centers and companies
Before COVID-19 reached the United States, more than half of the country was in a “Childcare desert, "said Shauna Causey, CEO of Weekdays. There were not enough childcare facilities to meet demand. "Now it's getting exponentially worse," she said. More parents need help and fewer options are available.
Seattle startup Leg up aims to help parents find day-care centers, after-school care and instruction, enrichment programs and other activities. It offers free childcare tools to help manage their operations. Earlier this month, the company worked with human resource managers on a guide for employers Supporting small and medium-sized companies in supporting working parents and carers.
Also with additional government funding related to childcare from the CARES Act and other sources, Leg Up CEO Jessica Eggert said many vendors will still close. Rely on big companies like Bright Horizons that starts to open again with new security measures may not be sufficient.
"If we lose daycare centers, it will be difficult for employees to get back to work," said Eggert.
Employers should address the problem if they want to avoid sales, Eggert said, noting that companies must start offering childcare to their employees by subsidizing the high monthly costs or offering other resources.
A March poll by Cleo, a startup that helps working parents, found that 93% of HR professionals say their company is offering new family benefits to their employees during the COVID 19 outbreak.
However, some are not so optimistic when companies find creative ways to help working parents.
"We're just shrugging our shoulders right now," said Underwood of Nanny Parent Connection, who spoke to HR managers at large companies in the Seattle region about the problem. For example, he said offering a $ 100 scholarship per day to a daycare center or nanny could give employees several hours of concentrated work.
"Companies that can afford it have to look at it closely," said Underwood.
The Zillow Group CEO spoke in a GeekWire webinar this week Rich Barton said the childcare dilemma was a "really, really terrible problem". At the moment, the real estate company in Seattle, which will enable remote working until at least 2021, is flexible in terms of working hours and offers support for childcare.
“This is not sustainable in the long run. We have to achieve long-term human productivity, ”said Barton. "But in this strange time, when we have difficulties planning for the future, we have invested a lot in these employees who are parents. It is not time to disinvest, it is time to continue our investment."
Axiom CEO Elena Donio, who also spoke in the webinar, said she asked managers to postpone work schedules to adapt to working parents. For example, schedule important team meetings too early or too late in the day.
"Until childcare facilities are open and schools are open, this will be a problem we have to deal with on a daily basis," said Donio. "It is very important that nurses do not withdraw from the professional moment that they are all capable of."
Microsoft has changed its parenting package in response to COVID-19. Business insider reported last month.
"We added an additional vacation option to give our employees more flexibility and free time when they face a longer school closure: the 12-week paid pandemic school and childcare vacation," said a Microsoft spokesman. "This benefit can be continuous, reduced, or temporary. For example, it can be used to take 1-2 days off a week while the rest are being worked on remotely."
Amazon declined to comment on this story. Unlike other tech stalwarts such as Apple, Facebook and Alphabet, the tech giant in Seattle does not offer child care to its employees. Last year Bloomberg reported on a group called "Momazonians" – working mothers at Amazon – who want access to the services. Part of their argument is that withholding backup daycare centers is slowing down the career growth of female workers at Amazon.
Startups are looking for solutions
Demand increased on weekdays as the COVID 19 outbreak spread. It started by tailoring parents to programs with six children or fewer, including “micro schools” run by teachers, sometimes in the home.
"We turned our business around when COVID-19 arrived, and our business accelerated in ways we never expected," said Causey. "We are building technology as quickly as possible to meet the new requirements."
If this messy situation has a silver lining, it could potentially foster and enable closer communities to support each other as safety nets. That is the hope of Avni Patel Thompson, an entrepreneur who previously founded on-demand childcare startup Poppy in Seattle, which closed in 2018.
Poppy could not find a sustainable and scalable business model that could keep parents' prices down and pay carers appropriately. Larger macro problems in the childcare industry – what parents are willing to pay and what carers expect – made it difficult for Poppy to use technology to increase sales and margins.
Patel Thompson is now leading a new company in Vancouver, B.C. called Modern Village This is the development of software for managing family logistics. She sees the potential for families to create “pods” that share different tasks, such as: B. Bring all the children in the neighborhood to soccer training or hold a zoom training session.
"There is an opportunity and frankly a need to innovate and build in this area," she said. "Otherwise it won't be nice."