Bass Connections Team Investigates the Challenges of Childcare During a Pandemic

August 21, 2020

Jocelyn Olcott.
Jocelyn Olcott (center) and members of The Value of Love Bass Connections team (Photo: Courtesy of Julie Wynmor)

Jocelyn Olcott is one of three team leaders for the Bass Connections team The Value of Love: Global Perspectives on the Economy of Care.

The team spent the school year working with researchers around the world to look at the potential for a “global care index,” a tool to rate countries on how they value all forms of care, from environmental care to healthcare. 

Amanda Kang.
Amanda Kang

Amanda Kang, a junior and a member of the project team, identified childcare as her topic of interest, and she researched it throughout the spring semester.

When students were sent home because the pandemic, Kang decided to reach out to the Gender, Sexuality and Feminist Studies department to help with a podcast series they were starting related to the work of her Bass Connections team.

Kang helped put together the panel for the first episode, a group consisting of Representative Katherine Clark (D-Mass.); Rhian Evans Allvin, CEO of the National Association for the Education of Young Children; and Bisa Batten Lewis, president of the Black Child Development Institute-Atlanta and managing partner of Ideal Early Learning. 

The panel spoke about the underfunding of childcare and the disproportionate effect the pandemic has had on women, particularly women of color, who are the majority of the childcare labor force.

[According to Kang], the biggest takeaway from the discussion was just how prevalent the issue was before, though it really took “COVID to really crack down on [the problem].”

“How we reopen will be really different given that there's just such a lack of funding, and it's going to be really hard for providers to make the adjustments necessary to reopen,” she said. 

Revaluing Care podcast flyer.
Flyer for “The COVID-19 Childcare Crisis” webinar (Image: Courtesy of Amanda Kang)

Olcott agreed with panelists on the podcast.

“One of the things that I think has been interesting with COVID is… how it's made visible to many, many more people what a problem [child care] is,” she said. “The problem isn't that [parents] have to ‘do’ childcare; the problem is people trying to do childcare and do their full-time jobs at the same time.”

Olcott has been discussing potential solutions to the childcare problem with colleagues but has found it difficult to pin down answers.

“I do keep asking colleagues, ‘What would we like to see the administration do,’ and I'm coming up empty or coming up with some range of people just sort of throwing their hands and being very frustrated,” she said.

That said, a few ideas have been “floated,” Olcott said. 

“You could set up something like a health savings account that'll be a childcare savings account, that would be tax deductible, that maybe employers contribute to. That would create the possibility of at least having some kind of childcare, of payment for childcare or subsidized childcare going forward,” she said.

Olcott noted that this solution does not solve the problem of the availability of childcare, nor does it make things easier for parents who can’t send their kids to school, but it does provide support for parents who may need to hire help “for two weeks because [their] kid has gotten quarantined,” for example.

Another possible solution, Olcott said, is an office that vets childcare providers, ensuring that these individuals are being regularly tested, wearing masks and taking appropriate health measures. These individuals would be on call to help employees with childcare should the need arise. 

“Or just simply giving faculty who are parents either leave now or the ability to take leave later to catch up,” Olcott said.

Ultimately, the future is unclear, which makes it difficult to come up with lasting solutions.

“There's not an easy solution for any of this other than just saying you're going to give people paid leave, but you can't do that forever,” Olcott said, “We're looking at something that can go on for a few years. That's a pretty hard call for administration to make. I mean, Duke is a very generous place, but even for Duke. Much less for places with fewer resources.”

Read the full article by Preetha Ramachandran in The Chronicle.

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