• Opinion
  • August 23, 2018
  • 6 minutes
  • 1

Booming demand and sprawling services: why childcare needs a rethink

Opinion: As families go nuclear, parents need more childcare at higher quality

This opinion piece was written by Tarun Varma. If you’re interested in becoming an opinion contributor, take a look at our opinion page


Offerings and support for childcare are changing. This is a result of how towns, cities and families are organised. Remote and freelance work, rising property costs — both to rent or buy — and the ease of commuting all mean that we are increasingly living in nuclear families, distant from the option of having grandparents help with childcare.

Childcare used to be almost solely a function of the community you lived in. Now, childcare at work is a real option with more firms providing on-site facilities. Shared office spaces help aggregate demand for childcare at or near work. WeWork’s WeGrow is just one example of an office setup that’s now also seeking to run quality childcare spaces.

“Small childcare providers are one of the fastest growing employers in many countries”

Outside centre-based care, childminders and small childcare providers are one of the fastest growing employers in many countries. Employment in child daycare is growing over 2.6% per annum in the US. These businesses run in homes, in rented community spaces, at work or attached to primary schools.

Other service providers, such as Koru Kids, help families defray high costs of nannies by offering full-time nanny shares or facilitating care after school and in summer when pre-schools close doors.

These solutions are here to serve growing demand — both in quantity and for quality. The total minutes of time that children below the age of six will spend in care outside parental oversight is growing: from 2001 to 2013 in Europe, the number of dual income families where both parents worked full-time went up from 26.4% to 30.8%. And the true scale of this growing demand is even disguised or suppressed by lack of affordability. For example, 40% of all UK mothers say that lack of affordability of childcare is the biggest barrier to them re-entering the workforce.

“The true scale of this growing demand is disguised by lack of affordability”

But beyond quantity, realisation that quality early-childhood learning and care is important and needs specialist skills is driving parents to be more informed consumers of tools and supports that promise to help them raise their children to be more prepared for life.

This changing demand and need for quality represents a major opportunity for governments to establish a revitalised ecosystem of childcare.

For one, they should ensure simpler quality compliance by banding all types of childcare provision into a single pool. By considering nurseries, childminders, day care centres and workspaces together, policymakers will allow parents to compare options and increase focus on quality operations.

Secondly, policymakers should set standards for early childcare workers and at the same time relax how training is imparted to reach that standard.  Access to quality care personnel is one the biggest challenges in the industry. Colombia, for example, requires early childhood educators to complete a five-year-long course. Loosening strict degree courses to a combination of online learning, in-person instruction and learning on the job will ensure more people can enter.

“This changing demand and need for quality represents a major opportunity for governments to establish a revitalised ecosystem of childcare”

Beyond compliance and quality, policymakers should simplify the landscape of subsidies. As Rachel Carrell, Koru Kids’ founder and CEO, says, “in the UK, between child benefit, tax credits, 15 free hours/week in some circumstances, 30 hours/week in others, “taxfree childcare” which is a misnomer and childcare vouchers; all with different forms of eligibility, no one understands the system!”

Handing parents clear, even if minimum, childcare support would reduce friction, allow them to exercise their choice and hence both raise demand for quality and force providers to rise to it.

Finally, policymakers would do well to recognize that it is outside school and in the home learning environment that perhaps the maximum difference can take place. Supporting innovation with investment, as the UK government is now suggesting, will unleash new ways to reaching children when they are with their parents.

“The trends that underpin enrolment in early care are here to stay”

The trends that underpin enrolment in early care are here to stay. They cut across countries and are repeated at all income levels. Where governments can enable easier provision by providers, establish a standard for quality and enable the parents to make choices they will see more engaged citizens and have an easier time when these children get to school. — Tarun Varma 

(Picture credit: Pexels)

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