The COVID-19 pandemic has brought child care challenges to the forefront of families, businesses and legislatures minds. In a recent series of state-specific surveys completed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, referred to as the Untapped Potential economic impact reports, it was found that child care issues resulted in anywhere from $479 million to $3.47 billion in estimated annual losses for state economies. To find innovative solutions, we must build innovative partnerships. State and local chambers and Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies (CCR&Rs) can combine their respective expertise to implement child care solutions that are specific to the needs of their communities.
CCR&Rs are local programs designed intentionally with the needs of their states and communities in mind. In 47 states, CCR&R agencies are focusing on increasing access to high-quality, affordable child care by serving as a resource hub for families, child care professionals and employers. In collaboration with state and local chambers of commerce, who serve as the conveners of the K-12, child care provider and local business communities, CCR&Rs are building the foundation for a strong workforce.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made the collaboration between CCR&R agencies and state and local chambers of commerce as important as ever. Before the pandemic, the childcare industry was struggling to maintain operational sustainability and it has only worsened. Shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic began in the U.S., the sheer number of childcare programs were drastically reduced. As of May 2020, 57 percent of childcare centers were closed, and 26 percent of family childcare homes were closed. And, with 35 percent of childcare centers and 21 percent of family childcare programs as of July 2020, the work being done by CCR&Rs is as crucial to the health of our workforce as it was pre-pandemic.
Foundational Needs Addressed by CCR&Rs
The origin of the Child Care Resource and Referral system stemmed from growing demand in the 1960s and 1970s for working parents to find safe and reliable child care, caused by the influx of women to the workforce. Based on building and sustaining high-quality, affordable child care, CCR&Rs and their services address three foundational needs of their communities:
- The need for families to access information on child care resources and child care referrals;
- The need for communities to build supply and improve the quality of child care; and
- The need for employers to have a child care system that supports a productive workforce.
With more than 400 agency locations across the nation, services vary by location with typical activities including providing parents with information about child care options, working directly with families who receive assistance or have other unique needs, collecting data on child care provider demographics supply, and establishing partnerships with public and private entities. Many CCR&Rs also provide training and professional development, coaching and technical assistance to child care providers.
How Chambers Engage the Business Community
State and local chambers of commerce serve as conveners of key stakeholders in their communities and facilitate collaboration. They are uniquely positioned to conduct localized research into the needs and priorities of employers, providers and working parents. Additionally, chambers are able to collect regional data about child care availability in the community to inform discussions around potential solutions.
Examples of Chamber and CCR&R Partnerships
Partnerships developed between CCR&Rs and local and state chambers of commerce have proven to be fruitful in their respective communities. For instance, a partnership developed between Child Care Aware® of Kansas and the Salina Area Chamber of Commerce led to an innovative approach to supporting a comprehensive public strategy for child care in Kansas.
Similar partnerships in states such as Indiana have proven effective in their respective communities. In Indianapolis, Indiana, a collaboration between Child Care Answers, a CCR&R agency, the Brownsburg Chamber of Commerce and One Zone, has afforded Child Care Answers the opportunity to share their mission, vision and services with member companies and organizations in the business community to inform them on the state of child care and further expand opportunities for developing solutions to child care challenges.
As we begin the pandemic recovery process, child care collaborations, like those seen between CCR&R agencies and chambers of commerce, are crucial in providing access to child care for millions of working parents. By increasing parents’ ability to rejoin the workforce, we strengthen the workforce of today and provide hope for the workforce of tomorrow.
 Haynie (2020). Analysis of Child Care Program Closures Based on Data from Eight States. Unpublished Raw Data.
Yvanna Cajina is an intern at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Center for Education and Workforce, and is currently a student at Florida International University’s Landon Undergraduate School of Business, working towards a B.B.A. in International Business.