Parents & Employers Pay the Price: COVID-19 Erodes Child Care Systems

August 18, 2020

son at home with mom

The COVID-19 public health crisis is heightening awareness of child care as a core foundational need for both working parents and employers. Under typical circumstances, parents need accessible, safe and affordable child care so they can work. Employers also need quality child care options for their employees for their business to work. This year (2020) has been anything but typical. The COVID-19-induced erosion of an already broken child care system is having critical impacts on both parents with young children and their employers.

With COVID-19 knocking on the door of nearly every community, many working parents are struggling with caring for their children at home while trying to maintain their work productivity and quality. Other parents without options for working from home are finding it difficult to find child care. Many child care programs have closed and the ones that remain open have lowered their max capacity to allow for smaller group sizes recommended as part of preventive infection control practices. Child care needs are further complicated by K-12 school re-openings with options for full-time e-learning, hybrid part home-part in person learning and full-time in person learning. Uncertain circumstances and unplanned interruptions drastically strain working parents and their employers.

Results from new parent and employer surveys out of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation (USCCF) illuminate the impact of COVID-19 on the business community and employees with young children. According the USCCF parent survey, more than one in five parents are unsure whether they will fully return to work. The USCCF parent survey results also indicate that 50% of parents report financial assistance for child care or onsite child care as important considerations for returning to work. According to the employer survey, however, only 5% of employers are likely to provide child care financial assistance or onsite care options. These discordant parent/employer survey results are worrisome. As the pandemic continues, it is becoming clear that the repercussions of overall workforce profile shifts due to COVID-19 and child care will be numerous and long-lasting.


Long-term Impacts on Parents

In addition to the day-to-day challenges of caring for children while working, many working parents risk losing their job due to lack of suitable child care options. This is of particular concern for parents who are single. It is unclear how long the COVID-19 crisis will last, much less how long working parents and their employers can endure their current situation before tough decisions about continuing employment need to be made.

COVID-19 has shaken family and work life balance at its core, with impacts for years, and possibly generations, to come. Women are most at risk for relinquishing their professional workforce position, in part because of their commonly-held primary caregiver role in the family. Women also account for more than half of jobs lost during COVID-19, of which women of color have the highest unemployment rates. Workforce figures like these are prompting some to refer to the current recession as a “Sheccession’. If women drop out of the workforce to stay home with their children, any progress made in closing workplace gender disparities are at risk for being erased. Employment gaps endured by women negatively impact their long-term wage-earning potential. Ripple effects also are seen in the form of reduced retirement contributions and savings.


Impacts on Employers and Businesses

For as long as the COVID-19 crisis continues and for an indefinite amount of time after the worst of the pandemic passes, business owners risk losing valuable high performing employees because of challenges with finding and keeping child care. It is estimated at 50% of child care programs will close permanently due to COVID-19. It will take time to rebuild the child care infrastructure to a point where the supply of quality early care and education options meets the need. Working parents will experience delays in re-entering the workforce due to child care availability.

Due to COVID-19, many businesses also will continue to experience cash flow difficulties, lower revenue and reduced profit margins. Employee turnover and costs associated with recruiting and hiring staff to resume roles vacated by employees with young children deepen the impact. As a result, businesses will find it more difficult to rebound after the COVID-19 crisis.

So what can be done at this point to prevent droves of working parents from leaving the workforce because of COVID-19-era child care challenges? How can negative business impacts of workforce shifts be mitigated? One key finding of the USCCF survey of businesses is that employers are more likely to make child care accommodations if government provides incentives. As COVID-19 relief packages are being negotiated by Congressional leaders in Washington, D.C., it is encouraging to see support for families with young children, the child care industry and business relief included in discussions. Federal relief, however, is but one strategy for what likely will require a multi-faceted approach to secure the foundation for employers and working families with young children.


What you can do now to support the child care system

Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies (CCR&Rs), Parents, Employers

  • Review and share this new resource from CCAoA about how employers can support employees with child care needs during COVID-19 and beyond.
  • Encourage lawmakers to support investments in child care by using CCAoA’s advocacy tools.


  • Access the CCR&R agency nearest to you for assistance with searching for quality child care options.
  • Initiate a discussion with co-workers about child care challenges during COVID-19 and come to agreement on a collective ask related to supporting employee child care needs.
  • Open a dialog with your employer about your own child care challenges and describe workplace supports that you and your co-workers need to stay engaged at work.


  • Connect with employees about their current child care needs and brainstorm feasible strategies to keep children in safe environments and their parents (your employees) working.
  • Determine what measures your business can take to support families with young children to return to the workplace or work from home, communicate your decision to employees as early on as possible and implement strategies expeditiously.
  • Monitor federal government stimulus funding developments and regulations for decisions that impact your payroll practices.
  • Watch information shared out from the federal government for new incentives for business owners who provide child care assistance to employees and stabilizing business supports that may benefit your bottom line. Your local U.S. Chamber of Commerce may be a good source of ongoing information – consider getting on their email distribution list.


This post is brought to you by CCAoA's Emergency Child Care & Technical Assistance Center™.  Learn more and request technical assistance.

Topics: Systems Building, Workforce, Parenting, Coronavirus

Kim Engelman

Written by Kim Engelman

In 2015, Dr. Engelman joined Child Care Aware® of America’s staff team where she uses her expertise and knowledge from preventive medicine and public health, health and human service systems, child development, research and data, clinical psychology and early childhood care and education to advance Child Care Aware® of America’s mission.