Are Workplace Benefits a Viable Solution to the Child Care Crisis?



Located on the base of the Nice Smoky Mountains, surrounded by previous nation shops and taffy retailers, is a theme park that, for the employees who work there, operates like a self-contained group.

Dollywood Parks and Resorts is a vacation spot for households — “company,” as they’re higher recognized by employees — to play, have fun and be charmed by the Southern hospitality that the park’s namesake, entertainer and icon Dolly Parton, grew up on and has come to embody.

However somebody has to do all that charming, and never everybody has the magic contact, explains Tim Berry, vice chairman of human assets for the Dollywood Firm. To draw the perfect “hosts,” as resort employees are referred to as, the corporate should be a fantastic place to work, with glorious advantages and an atmosphere the place folks really feel comfy and supported bringing their full selves.

“Now we have to be extra to them than only a job,” Berry says, noting that the Dollywood Firm views its employees as its “differentiator.”

For years, Dollywood has been constructing out a collection of advantages for its staff, which incorporates an on-site household well being heart, a park chaplain, and full tuition protection for anybody concerned with furthering their schooling by means of the corporate’s companion program GROW U.

These choices have additionally, lately, expanded to incorporate baby care advantages.

Throughout the pandemic, firm officers started listening to of the heightened challenges staff have been going through discovering baby care. Many famous in worker surveys that the kid care applications of their space have been full, and it was impeding their skill to work. (Nationwide, an estimated 16,000 baby care applications closed completely within the first two years of the pandemic, representing a lack of about 9 % of all licensed applications within the U.S.)

“Youngster care was a kind of points of life that we all know folks have a necessity for, and we wanted to determine a method to deal with,” explains Berry.

The corporate had thought of providing a baby care profit for its hosts prior to now, together with an on-site baby care heart the place they may drop off their children in the beginning of their shift and decide them up on the finish. However the Dollywood Firm has a headcount of about 3,800, and never all of these staff are workin’ 9 to five.

Although some employees, equivalent to these in advertising and marketing and accounting roles, work conventional enterprise hours, many who work in visitor providers and help park operations are engaged on weekends, within the evenings and over holidays.

“Our want for baby care [runs the] full gamut,” Berry says, “from conventional hours to odd, custom-made, distinctive wants for when folks work.”

To make an on-site baby care program out there to all employees, Berry provides, the corporate must function it 24 hours a day, seven days per week. That wasn’t possible or sensible.

As a substitute, as the necessity for a kid care resolution grew to become larger, Dollywood discovered an alternate choice in WeeCare, a community of kid care suppliers.

In summer season 2021, Dollywood introduced a partnership with WeeCare, describing it as an “unparalleled baby care profit for hosts working on the Smoky Mountains theme park.” WeeCare’s cost is to match Dollywood staff in want of kid care with one of many suppliers in its huge community, which CEO Jessica Chang says consists of greater than 65,000 baby care professionals, about 6,000 of that are licensed in-home suppliers. In addition, the Dollywood Firm supplies staff a month-to-month stipend towards the price of care: $100 for every worker’s first baby and $50 for each extra baby.

That month-to-month contribution probably covers someplace round 10 to fifteen % of Dollywood staff’ baby care prices. In different components of the nation, although, it wouldn’t go almost as far.

In Sevier County, Tennessee, the place Dollywood is situated, the median price for toddler care is between $650 and $900 per thirty days, in keeping with 2022 estimates discovered within the U.S. Division of Labor’s Nationwide Database of Youngster Care Costs. Toddler care, which tends to be barely inexpensive, ranges from $590 to $715 per thirty days within the space. The common month-to-month price for a WeeCare supplier in Tennessee, the corporate says, is between $650 and $700.

Simply shy of two years in, Berry says the uptake of this system has been sluggish however is rising.

Final 12 months, employees retention for the Dollywood Firm elevated by 11 %. Berry can’t say for positive whether or not that’s from the kid care profit — the corporate is continually making modifications to nudge up that fee — however he acknowledges it’s a big enchancment.

“It’s an actual want,” Berry says, “and we’re going to do our greatest to maintain it going, and hopefully different companies will do the identical.”

In reality, plenty of different companies are doing the identical.

On the heels of the pandemic, which elevated consciousness among the many American public about how troublesome it’s for households to search out and afford baby care and the way important the procurement of that baby care is to enterprise operations and progress, many firms are exploring their choices, questioning how they may assist their employees with baby care in change for — the hope goes — much less attrition and extra centered, happy, productive staff.

That sluggish, natural pattern accelerated earlier this 12 months. In February, about six months after the CHIPS and Science Act was handed to strengthen analysis and manufacturing of semiconductors and different applied sciences within the U.S., the Biden administration introduced it will be requiring recipients of the $39 billion in federal subsidies from CHIPS to supply baby care to all staff. Based on the U.S. Division of Commerce, semiconductor producers making use of for greater than $150 million in federal funding should submit plans for offering care that’s “inexpensive, accessible, dependable and prime quality.”

The announcement was met with fierce rebuke and animated reward alike.

Some see it as wrongheaded — a distraction from the true aim of getting the U.S. to deal with and fund early care and schooling like a public good, in a lot the identical means Okay-12 is.

“Should you go away it to employers to primarily determine baby care for his or her staff, I feel that’s not going to get us the place we need to be as a rustic,” says Laura Bornfreund, senior fellow and advisor on early and elementary schooling with the Training Coverage program at New America, a Washington-based suppose tank.

“I see the enchantment of this as a short-term method to develop choices for households,” Bornfreund provides, “however to me, it might take us down what I see because the fallacious path for a long-term repair, turning into extra of an employer-led profit than the general public funding we want.”

For others, it’s a intelligent workaround by an administration that noticed its priorities for baby care and preschool entry largely left on the chopping room ground throughout congressional talks in 2021. And even when it’s not “the” resolution, it’s “a” resolution to the disaster that continues to escalate within the early care and schooling sector.

“On the finish of the day, by means of one thing just like the CHIPS announcement, we have now extra employers who’re going to care much more about baby care,” notes Anne Hedgepeth, chief of coverage and advocacy at Youngster Care Conscious of America, a nationwide nonprofit that promotes high quality, accessible baby care. “Momentum there’s actually essential. Employers who should expertise and navigate the challenges of kid care develop into employers who need to see a greater system.”

On the subject of employer involvement in baby care, the satan is within the particulars. Interviews with a dozen early care and schooling suppliers, coverage specialists, advocates and employers reveal simply how advanced and contentious this challenge is.

The fact is there are a variety of current and rising fashions for employer participation in baby care, every with various levels of success and scalability.

What’s clear, although, is that office baby care advantages aren’t some summary concept being floated by companies or the U.S. authorities for some far-off future. They’re already right here, and staff are already profiting from them.

When most individuals hear “employer-sponsored baby care,” as this profit is greatest recognized, they’re probably considering of on-site baby care. On this mannequin, applications are established within the locations the place staff work — in an workplace constructing or different co-located premises — and infrequently in partnership with an out of doors baby care supplier or community, equivalent to Vivid Horizons or KinderCare.