With more than 12 states seeing a surge in the number of new coronavirus cases, many school districts around the country are planning for partial in-person class or full-time remote learning this fall.
Many parents are onboard with that decision. Only 19% of parents prefer their children return to school in-person full-time this fall, according to a Pew Research Center survey released Wednesday. Over a third, 36%, prefer a blend of in-person and remote learning, while 28% would like to see their children attending school fully remote.
But limited in-classroom schedules and day-care capacity may mean that parents will need to be home with their children for the foreseeable future. And that may have long-term effects on their careers. Nearly three-fourths, 73%, of parents say they plan to make major changes to their professional lives to accommodate the lack of child care, according to a new Care.com online survey of 1,000 parents with children under the age of 15. About 15% of those are considering leaving the workforce altogether.
"We're at a huge risk to lose a generation of working parents," Deb Perelman, founder of Smitten Kitchen and mother of two, said recently during a Congressional hearing. She anticipates that working parents will see a lot of "compassion fatigue from workplaces" this fall when they have to continue to caring for kids while working full-time.
"The empathy that was extended to working parents, who were juggling a lot, isn't going to continue," Perelman says. "We're going to see parents pushed out of their jobs."
Parents are already feeling the strain: 66% of Care.com's respondents say that their productivity at work has suffered while trying to manage both work and child-care duties. And more than half, 55%, say they feel like they're letting down their colleagues.
In order to take care of their children during the pandemic, about 65% of working parents say they start late or end their work day early. And the struggle to balance work and caring for kids has impacted their ability to do their jobs well: 64% of respondents say they've had at least one major failure at work since the pandemic began in March.
Overall, about 45% of working parents say that juggling child-care responsibilities may have caused their career advancement to suffer.
Parents want and need more protections and resources, Perelman says. Care.com found that only 15% of working parents receive employer-sponsored child-care benefits. Among those who do get these benefits, back-up care and access to referral services are the most common.
But that's assuming parents can find additional child care this fall. Nearly half, 47% of working families have lost the child care they used before the pandemic, according to a June report from the University of Oregon's RAPID-EC Research Group. Of families using child-care centers, 60% reported losing their provider.
Earlier this year, Congress allocated $3.5 billion in emergency funding to child care in the CARES Act. That funding, among other benefits, helped 23 states offer grants to child-care providers to support their businesses during the pandemic. Yet more than 40% of child-care centers remain closed in some states and most report the funds are already gone, according to the National Women's Law Center.
To address the ongoing challenges, the House of Representatives passed a set of bills last week that would provide over $60 billion in direct funding to the child-care industry. Democrats are pushing to get these provisions included in the next comprehensive relief package, but the Republican-led legislation has only allocated $15 billion toward child care and $70 billion for K-12 schools, with a bulk of that money tied to requiring in-person attendance.
But simply providing funding to schools and child-care providers may not be enough support for working parents. Experts say it will likely take actions by both the government and employers to ensure that there's no lasting effects on working parents as they continue to juggle work and child-care responsibilities.
There's a real impact on families when parents are forced to choose between educating their kids and working, Perelman says. "I'm not asking for magical solutions, but what I would like to see is some protections for working parents," she says, adding that losing your job typically means losing access to health care and other benefits.
With the majority of parents operating without child-care benefits, many are faced with tough decisions for the upcoming school year. Kate Delany, 41, only has a few more days to weigh her options. Her New Jersey public school district is requiring parents to choose between a partial in-person schedule for the fall or a fully remote learning experience by the end of the week.
"I think that my kids want to do the hybrid, and I prefer the remote. But I also I'm not sure what that will look like for me working at home," she says. A freelance writer who also teaches college English, Delany says she found it difficult to balance her work responsibilities with managing homeschooling for her 8- and 11-year-old kids in spring. Adding to the stress is the fact that her husband, a middle school teacher, works in a different school district and is planning to go back full-time this fall.
"I just don't know," Delany says. "My kids want to go back; they're ready to go back," she says. "I definitely think hybrid is better because it's just impossible otherwise to do the social distancing in a classroom. But we're also sort of trying to weigh it out."
Whether Delany chooses to send her kids back to school or not, it will be a challenge. "I think that it will be stressful for everyone," she says. "Doing the best we can is sort of all we can hope for," she adds, saying that she's thankful that her children are a bit older. But of course, that brings its own challenges. "I don't know that I'm really ready to do middle school math," Delany says with a laugh.
"We'll just have to aim to do the best we can — that's the only option that's available," she says. "It won't be perfect and it won't be what they would be getting in the building by teachers."
The silver lining, Delany says: Everyone is in this together.
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