The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the lives of billions of people around the world. For many parents with young children in the United States, the arrangement of accommodations that has been implemented in various areas in recent weeks means that they now spend every day reconciling work with caring for their families. For childcare workers, an important but often underestimated part of the American economy, the crisis means dealing with economic uncertainty, but also adapting to new roles, including providing essential workers.
Childcare startups, including home daycare networks, childcare search apps, and social security and business management software, are working hard to help families. For example, many use their technology to connect key workers with caregivers or provide emergency childcare to help providers manage government aid programs and, in some cases, raise their own funds.
theinformationsuperhighway spoke to nine US-based childcare startups – daycare and preschool networks Wonderschool, NeighborSchools, WeeCare and MyVillage; Winnie, Komae and Helpr, all apps for organizing childcare; and enterprise software companies Kinside and Kangarootime – to see how they deal with the effects of COVID-19.
Childcare for key workers
Many of the childcare startups that theinformationsuperhighway spoke to are now focused on helping people in jobs that are considered essential when ordering accommodation, including health care, emergency workers, and grocery store employees. Some of them are adapting their platforms or services to serve these families more quickly, and are balancing their urgent care needs with the security measures of COVID-19.
For example, Winnie, a platform for finding verified childcare providers in the United States, collects and updates real-time data about which providers are temporarily closed and which are available, says founder and CEO Sara Mauskopf. This week, Winnie launched a parent portal to find emergency childcare with immediate openings.
Kasey Edwards, the founder and CEO of Helpr, an app that connects parents to screened babysitters, said she works with families of key workers to help them afford childcare. With Helpr's "Outside the Network" function, families can add their own care providers to the platform and manage backup care subsidies from their employers.
In the meantime, Komae, an app that enables family groups to set up babysitting co-operatives and share care with each other, offers free care loans and works with seven health organizations to coordinate childcare for their employees, said founder and CEO Erin Beck.
The babysitting circles on Komae are private, "which means that families from one organization can strictly isolate their care from each other to get the care they need without taking the risk of being exposed to the community as a whole (like our grandparents or others) traditional supervisors), "said Beck. The app currently recommends that users be "friends" with only one or two other families for their care group.
In some locations, small home care providers have been allowed to remain open, said Chris Bennett, co-founder and CEO of Wonderschool, a network of home childcare and preschools in states like California, New York and Texas.
"Time and time again we see district officials who enable small operators of childcare facilities at home to continue working, helping these critical workers with local protection," he said. "Our programs have now taken on an important support role that larger preschools cannot currently support."
Jessica Chang, co-founder and CEO of WeeCare, another network of childcare providers at home, said the company adjusts its support hourly and takes into account the changing protocols in each county. In certain areas, such as Northern California and New York City, our providers are changing the way they support their community. Instead of looking after children who go to their daycare regularly, they are now looking after children of first aiders and important workers. "
In Massachusetts, Governor Charlie Baker ordered all early childhood care centers to be closed on March 23. The only centers that are currently allowed to operate in the state are exempt emergency childcare programs designed for key workers and provided by the Department of Early Education and Care (EEC).
As a result, Boston-based NeighborSchools, which works with home childcare providers, has closed all of their centers to accommodate the order. Brian Swartz, co-founder and CEO, said that some of NeighborSchool's vendor partners are requesting to care for health professionals, first aiders, and vulnerable groups in emergencies. The startup is currently helping providers to find out regulatory requirements and compile guidelines for the use of state aid. It also communicates with the leadership of the EEC to provide full access to its platform.
"Although we never imagined this scenario, the technology we developed for our network is uniquely well suited to automatically adapting families to childcare programs in real time," said Swartz. “When planning childcare, we need to consider each child's date of birth, family care plan, and licensed capacity of each program within the age range. Our team is ready to drop everything and make this possible if the EEC asks for our help. "
Startups also help other parents find short-term or emergency childcare. Some have launched online services such as digital replay dates to help families balance work from home and family life.
MyVillage, a network of home care providers in Colorado and Montana, "has seen an increase in interest from families looking for temporary care and / or short-term accommodation due to the closure of large daycare centers and school districts." said co-founder and CEO Erica Mackey. The company is currently working on a short-term placement solution for families in selected MyVillage programs that require childcare.
Komae and Helpr have started offering online services to help parents suddenly collide between work and personal life. Helpr has started online music lessons and tutoring for families on its platform, while Komae enables digital playback dates. This means that parents use the app to schedule video calls with their children's friends.
"I never thought that my toddler could be so entertained by their friends on a computer screen, but they surprisingly go an hour to show each other their toys and silly faces," said Beck. "This social connection is so important to all of us."
Security and support
Compliance with safety regulations is always a priority for childcare workers, but is particularly important during this time. In addition to complying with the CDC guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19, many companies have also taken their own protective measures. Some also run financial support programs to help service providers who are forced to close due to illness.
For example, Beck posted a letter on Komae's website on March 12, hours before Ohio became the first state to shut down schools, and asked the families in the app to stop childcare sharing immediately.
"It was one of the most difficult decisions I've ever had to make as a founder because, as a parent, I was painfully aware of how desperate these families would be after caring and companionship," said Beck. "But" holding on to social distance "was not as self-evident then as it is today; as leaders of this huge community, it was our responsibility to deal firmly with what had to be done."
Komae has been able to maintain its community through measures such as helping parents who work with health organizations to find care and implement digital features, she added. "We knew that Komae had the tools to achieve this, so we basically adapted to isolating or digital car sharing with social distance."
For security reasons, WeeCare has developed a function for monitoring caregivers for fever, which uses a function already included in the app, with which they can take photos and videos of children and mark activities throughout the day. The technology has been adjusted so that vendors can submit a video of themselves each morning by measuring their temperature with a thermometer. As soon as the video has been checked by the WeeCare team, the provider receives a badge on his list with the inscription "Health status: Fever-free" with the date of the checked reading.
According to Chang, the feature enables "providers to take more proactive measures as recommended by the CDC to ensure the health and safety of our community."
Several companies also offer financial programs to help their providers who are forced to shut down and to ensure that they do not feel forced to work even when ill. For example, MyVillage has raised additional funds so that the over 60 open programs in its network can continue to earn their planned earnings until April. Mackey says two anonymous donors have contributed to this so far.
"Many of our educators don't have the safety net to stop, so we want to help them stay open as long as it's safe," said Mackey. "When parents are exposed or infected and quarantined, our aid grants a grant that covers 11 of the child's 14 days of class until they can safely return to class."
Helpr has launched a policy on paid sick leave for babysitters on its platform after the first known cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. were notified of any illness in a home through a mandatory family disclosure in Helpr's app when booking an appointment.
A few days after theinformationsuperhighway spoke to Wonderschool, Bennett announced that the crisis forced the company to fire team members. Prior to the announcement, Bennett told theinformationsuperhighway that the company would use its network to help its other families find another caregiver when a wonderschool care program needs to be discontinued because of a child, parent, or provider symptoms or Has tests that are positive for COVID-19 in their area. In order to receive financial support, the Wonderschool monitors state and federal aid measures for companies.
"These crisis funds will be crucial to ensure that in-home providers that are temporarily closed are available to parents again when people return to work," he said.
The pandemic poses other challenges for startups that develop business and administration software for childcare.
Genevieve Carbone from Kangarootime, enterprise childcare management software, said that many of its customers have relied on messaging to keep families up to date with rapidly changing regulations. The software also enables “little contact”, for example by sharing information with parents digitally instead of on paper handouts, when checking in and out in the app, and when making online payments.
"We are closely monitoring the impact the virus will have on businesses in the future and how we can better support our customers after the pandemic," said Carbone. "We looked into improving agency / subsidy billing, assuming there is an increase in families who need state subsidies to cover their childcare."
Kinside, whose software helps employees manage family care and find daycare, saw incoming parents decline 60% due to home accommodations and social distance, said co-founder and CEO Shadiah Sigala. Thousands of day care centers in their network have also been closed.
Even places that are not currently under protection have seen a decline in parents looking for immediate care because they know "it is likely only a matter of time before all states take similar action," she added.
But Kinside is helping key workers find childcare and has recently started working on its platform with human resources in hospitals and grocery chains to "offer white-child childcare assistance to their employees."
After the pandemic
Nurseries and school closures have forced families to change their routines in exceptional and difficult circumstances, and the situation underscores the value of carers for the economy and family well-being. At the same time, it also underlines how vulnerable many providers with few security networks are.
Mackey said MyVillage was designed to address long-standing structural childcare issues. "It was difficult to manage this pandemic as a childcare worker, and now it's even more difficult." More than 40% of family childcare businesses nationwide say they can't make it two weeks without income from childcare, ”she said, adding that MyVillage was created to“ repair America's deeply broken childcare market, it doesn't work well for educators who earn an average of $ 11.50 an hour, or working parents who pay more than public tuition fees for childcare in most countries. "
Sigala said: “The pandemic has highlighted the importance of childcare in the day-to-day work of Americans and in the overall economy. More of our jobs may be suitable to support the work from home. But they are certainly not suitable for working with children from home. "
After the pandemic ended, many parents could have difficulty re-registering their children with the same caregiver, or they might have to find new options that would be financially easier for them to manage, she added. Kinside currently works with thousands of employers and day care centers, which can include up to one million childcare places. The company plans to offer companies deep discounts or free access to Kinside as they recover from the crisis.
"We expect the company's executives to lead their companies with more empathy than ever before," said Sigala. “They too have just experienced the complete lack of childcare infrastructure (perhaps for the first time); A problem that many of their employees are confronted with every day. We are ready to work with human resource managers and executives with resources and free advice. "