Today’s workers often want flexibility in their work. That, and the changes that followed the recession, have led to a freelance economy, shared working spaces and individualized job schedules.
But the trend toward flexibility in the labor force also has spawned another need: flexible childcare.
From nannies on demand to day care or after-school care on demand, alternatives to full-time childcare are providing parents options to fit their new ways of working. One of the most-popular options is drop-in care, where childcare is available by reservation, or at the last minute as a service offered by full-time day care and early-learning centers. Parents can pre-buy preschool hours and use them as needed. Costs vary but start at about $10 an hour, plus a one-time registration fee.
Earlier this month, Suzanne Santos, a mother of three, found herself using this alternative. Santos, a real estate agent in South Miami, had a photo shoot set up for one of her new property listings and needed childcare for her 2-year-old daughter for the afternoon when the nanny called in sick. So, Santos bought a package of drop-in childcare hours at The Fun Club in South Miami that she will use as needed over the next month.
“The all-or-nothing day-care scenario doesn’t make sense anymore,” Santos says. “People like me who have a flexible job with strange hours have a lot of moving parts and need options.”
Pamela Guilarte began drop-in care as the owner of Fun Club in South Miami and just sold the preschool to Orange Blossom Learning Center. Now, she plans to license the format she used locally to preschools around the country. She and her mother, Maria Sayre, have developed software that allows parents to log onto a website, purchase a package of hours and sign up for preschool/childcare as needed, or several days a week. Preschool owners are able to use the software to track parent usage and send out renewal notices.
Guilarte says drop-in care has gained traction in the past few years, particularly with young parents. “Millennial parents are savvy and because of the way they are working, they don’t want to pay a monthly fee,” she says. “They are hand-selecting the top preschools in their area where they can pay by the hour or the day.”
While it would seem challenging for owners to staff for drop-in care, Guilarte says it serves as supplemental income for childcare centers that already offer full-time care. Parents still need to ensure that a drop-in center is licensed and operates under the same regulations that apply to day-care facilities. “When I opened the Fun Club seven years ago, if I said we offer drop-in care, people had no idea what that was. Now, people know what it is and have started to use it,” she says.
Drop-in childcare has a sizable potential market: People working nontraditional shifts or flexible hours make up 35 percent of the workforce, according to a May 2012 report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And even parents who work traditional hours can find themselves in a childcare bind if their regular provider gets sick or an employer puts out a new shift schedule on short notice.
Cost has become an increasing factor as well. In 33 states and the District of Columbia, infant care is now more expensive than college tuition, according to the Economic Policy Institute, which conducts research on working America. The EPI says that in Florida, the average annual full-time preschool cost (40 hours) is $7,668, or $639 per month, and that the average cost of yearly in-state tuition is $4,423. For parents who lack consistent income, full-time high-quality childcare is out of reach.
While convenient, most drop-in care centers want some prior notice. Tiniciti Early Childhood Center requires 24 hours notice for drop-in care at its two Miami locations. It also offers parents flexibility in how they use day care during regular hours. Michael Taylor, who operates his iPrint company from Pipeline Brickell’s shared workspace, works a loose schedule and typically starts his workday around 11 a.m. after he drops his daughter Ella off at Tiniciti Brickell. Because the center offers alternatives to full-time care, Taylor uses it mostly in the afternoons but has the option of picking Ella up as late as 8 p.m. if needed. “There are so many young business people on Brickell that certain schools have no choice but to offer flexibility and adjust with times,” Taylor says.
Even the large national providers are catering to parents’ working habits. KinderCare Learning Centers has 1,600 locations across the country, including some on-site corporate centers. At some locations, it has extended hours, offered drop-in care or catered to parents with unpredictable schedules. In South Florida, KinderCare and its Cambridge Preschools has 22 locations, some that offer a daily rate or a monthly half-day fee, says Yvonne Wolliston, KinderCare regional director for the South. “We’re sensitive to moms who want flexibility and are working with them,” Wolliston says.
Some family childcare centers have adapted, too. Maricarmen Macias, a leader in “Fight For 15 Chicago” to raise the minimum wage, has operated a childcare center from her Chicago home for more than a decade. By welcoming children as early as 5 a.m. and as late as 11 p.m., she has attracted parents who put in nontraditional hours, some of them single mothers. For example, Macias says she accommodates a single mother who works a different schedule each week at a dollar store: “By being flexible, we are giving a mom the chance to have a job and be the main provider for her family.”
Another flexible option parents are using are websites like Care.com that offer a version of childcare on demand and nanny-sharing. Katie Bugbee, senior managing editor at Care.com, says parents use her website to build a bank of babysitters to hire as needed. “If you have five quality babysitters in your contacts, you can say, ‘I am picking up a gig this week and need someone for 20 hours, who can help me?’ ” Bugbee says.
For parents with older children, after-school programs also are evolving to accommodate a change in the communities’ needs. Jodi Grant, executive director of Afterschool Alliance — a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit advocacy organization to ensure quality after-school programs — says she has seen more alternative programs for parents who don’t need five-days-a-week after-care for their elementary, middle or high school children. From enrichment activities to onsite after-school care, “the need for flexibility is great and the programs are getting better.”
Cindy Krischer Goodman writes about work/life balance and work place topics. Connect with her at firstname.lastname@example.org or worklifebalancingact.com.