NAMPA, Idaho — Working parents face an array of challenges in order to meet both the demands of their employer and their children -- but what if more workplaces offered on-site child care? Some industry experts say that could be a solution toward keeping working parents satisfied - and employed - long-term.
"When I found out I had twins, I thought I was going to have to quit my job," Endeavor Elementary interventionist Billi Clark said. "Because with my teaching salary, I was going to have to use most of my salary to pay for daycare if I wanted to continue to work full-time."
Clark, like many other parents, had to weigh the pros and cons of returning to work after maternity leave and ultimately decided to go part-time to spend more time with her daughters and lower the costs needed for child care.
Endeavor Elementary School principal Heather Yarbrough understands the struggle. "When the majority of your paycheck is going to child care you have to make that decision: Do I stay or do I go?" Yarbrough said.
When Yarbrough took over as principal five years ago, she wanted to prioritize staff retention, realizing a steady workforce benefits all staff, and above all else, the students. But her workforce is young. Many teachers are starting their families, so she realized how necessary it would become to address their needs long-term by offering on-site child care.
Finding a solution
The school hosted a childcare center for two years during the pandemic but had to start the 2022 school year without a successful partnership in place.
"I have been praying all summer something like this would happen again," the school's instructional coach Molly Hillier said. "Having [my son] here is the only option for me, definitely."
After months of collaboration, Clark and another teacher who both went part-time to spend more time with their own young kids, offered up a solution.
"My teaching partner and I were talking and we were like, 'What if we did it? What if we started a business and worked part-time, then on our "off" days when we're not teaching we worked in the daycare," Clark said. "Then we talked to the principal and here we are! We're opening on October 31st."
Clark and Mellissa Hammerquist currently split the position as the school's interventionist, and starting this week, they'll spend their remaining time during the week alternating days as the lead teacher for the school's Little Rockets Program with their own children in attendance.
For staff moms taking advantage of the opportunity, it couldn't come soon enough.
"Oh my gosh! I have been counting down the sleeps!" school counselor and mom Trista Johnson said. "I cannot wait for [my son] to see all his little friends again."
To start, the program will be exclusive to staff at Endeavor Elementary with roughly a dozen kids enrolled from three months to five years old. Most attended the program in previous years and have already built relationships with the other children and parents.
"I can speak for myself and for other moms that have said, you know, 'If we don't get a daycare in here, I might have to quit," Clark said. "Because of the cost and also just finding something out there. Right now to find a daycare you have to tell them right when you know you're pregnant. Before you tell anyone else, you have to tell your daycare so that you can get a spot."
Perks of on-site childcare
For many parents, the benefits of on-site child care are obvious: cutting down on commute time without having to drop off and pick up at a separate location each day and staying close to their kids throughout the work day with the option of stopping by for a quick cuddle, kiss, feeding, or story time.
"If you're worried about 'oh, I don't know how they're going to do today, they had a rough night,' they can peek in at any time," Clark said.
"That's what I'm looking forward to most: Being able to come in and snuggle him for a quick 10-minute break, love on him, give him a kiss, then go finish out my day," Johnson said. "My job is sometimes really hard as a social worker, a school counselor; I deal with some crazy stuff sometimes. So to be able to come in and read him a book, lay him down, and snuggle him; Man does that make your day flow so much better."
Plus, for these teachers, there's no worry about leaving their child with a stranger. Instead, it's a well-known friend and co-worker who will be caring for their kids while they focus on teaching down the hall.
"The ladies who will be running it, I trust them with my whole heart, professionally and personally," Hillier said. "And knowing that he's going to get a great education and he's going to be in the same building as me is just the best."
"I think it's an absolutely brilliant idea," Executive Director at the Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children Beth Oppenheimer said. "People have asked me for years, do I think schools should be in the business of child care? And my answer is always 'Absolutely.' I think that connecting child care with our schools offers so many benefits."
Oppenheimer says the pandemic really put a spotlight on the important role childcare plays in our society, with business leaders taking note.
"Prior to the pandemic, when we would talk to business leaders they would say, 'that's not my issue; that's a family issue," Oppenheimer said. "Well, over the last couple of years, they have pretty quickly realized that it's also an issue for them."
Oppenheimer says many industries are looking at the potential of developing on-site childcare or partnering with existing providers to serve as a benefit and recruitment tool for employees.
Covering the costs
Of course, child care still comes down to cost.
The City of Boise even recently amended city code in an effort to make it easier and more affordable for childcare providers to fill open positions.
"Many of our childcare providers are leaving the workforce because they simply can't afford to stay there," Oppenheimer said. "Many of our childcare providers just can't make ends meet making 10-12 dollars an hour when they could go other places and make much more than that."
Raising wages for childcare providers would ultimately just raise tuition for working parents who are already paying, in many instances, more than a thousand dollars a month on child care.
Program leaders at Endeavor Elementary made every effort to keep things affordable for families by recruiting staff to donate toys, books, cribs, and other materials. Nampa Floors and nearby Lakeview Church of the Nazarene donated materials as well.
Teachers and family members got together on weekends to prepare the two classrooms that will host the program and parents will provide their child's meals each day.
The biggest cost saving comes down to the staff. There will be three certified adults in the room each day, but two are volunteers funded through grants with AmeriCorps.
Ultimately, it costs teachers half the price of traditional daycare, and unlike the typical setting, these parents won't have to pay year-round. Principal Yarbrough explains teachers will pay half tuition for August and December since they're only in class half the month. They also won't pay in the summer months when school is not in session.
"It is my goal to get [tuition] covered at some point for staff," Yarbrough said. "That this will just be a benefit of working here."
Leading by example
Some big businesses are also realizing the need to support working parents with on-site child care. A childcare facility is even part of Micron's new $15 billion investment in Boise to attract and retain employees with young children.
"If you are a place that says you take care of people, I think we need to step up and start taking care of people," Yarbrough said. "We can say that we care for others and that we want to solve this problem, but we've got to actually do it. We've got to put some action to it."
"At the end of the day, our economy cannot survive if we don't have childcare," Oppenheimer said. "Without childcare, parents can't work, and without childcare, our businesses can't hire and retain employees; because a lot of families, if they can't find or afford childcare, they're not going to work."
Each mom we talked with at Endeavor expressed feelings of gratitude and appreciation for being valued as a parent and not just an employee.
"It's amazing knowing that they really put family at the forefront," Hillier said. "And knowing that we're able to have our careers and not have to sacrifice being a mom."
"I mean, to be able to still be a mommy, but then go out and do the things I love, like my passion of helping kids and working at an elementary school, without feeling like I have to choose," Johnson said. "It's amazing."