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Back to School: Working Parents’ Dilemma

working parents
  • Published
  • 29 July 2021
  • Category
  • General

After being home for most of the last school year, many working parents and kids are looking forward to going back to in-person learning. However, it’s complicated:

  • Affordable childcare to fill coverage gaps is difficult to find in many parts of the country.
  • Some parents no longer have the option of working remotely from home.
  • A COVID-19 vaccine has not yet been approved for use by children under 12.
  • Students with compromised immune systems cannot risk exposure at school.
  • Some states bar schools from requiring masks while others have done the opposite.
  • Outbreaks are occurring as a result of the spread of the contagious Delta variant.

It is not yet known how many parents will keep their children home when schools reopen. Most parents prefer their children to go to school for both educational and social reasons, but they also consider their health a high priority.

Consequently, working parents face a dilemma while assessing exposure risk for their children and juggling the responsibilities of parenthood with commitments to employers, other family members and their communities.

Transmission Rates in Schools

Multiple studies have been conducted and evidence suggests that schools can be reopened safely. One of the largest studies on COVID in schools in the United States looked at more than 90,000 students and teachers in North Carolina over nine weeks last autumn. When the researchers conducted contact tracing to identify school-related transmissions, they identified only 32 cases.

Studies that have included testing, seem to show low transmission rates as well. In Salt Lake City, UT, researchers offered tests to more than 1,000 students and staff who had come into contact with 51 pupils who had tested positive. Of the roughly 700 people who took the tests, only 12 came back positive. These studies suggest that students who contract the virus don’t tend to spread it at school.

Employers Can Help

Employers are encouraged to adopt family-friendly policies that apply equally to all employees, regardless of their gender, living situation or employment status. Promoting a culture in which workers feel comfortable using policies without fear of discrimination or retaliation is key. This is especially important for working mothers, who in many cases assume more care responsibilities than men, according to numerous surveys.

Here are some ways employers can support parents:

  1. Assess policies: Identify the most pressing needs of working parents. Focus on vulnerable groups, such as temporary, migrant, pregnant or nursing workers, workers with disabilities, and those who lack access to benefits like paid sick leave.
  2. Allow flexible arrangements: The needs of working parents vary greatly. Flexible work arrangements give parents wiggle room without worrying about having to be in two places at once. Examples include remote work, job-sharing, adjustable work-week schedules and ensuring protected leave.
  3. Support affordable childcare: Many parents are faced with limited or no childcare options whether they send their children to school or keep them at home. In some cases, the safety of younger children may be compromised by inadequate supervision. Employers can support parents by providing referrals to quality childcare sources, subsidies and flexible schedules.
  4. Promote healthy practices: Employers can help protect workers and their families by maintaining safe and clean workplaces. This may include wearing masks, practicing social distancing, having handwashing stations or alcohol-based hand rubs in convenient locations, and providing a private area for breast-feeding mothers. Campaigns on disease prevention measures, travel guidance and talking to children about the virus are encouraged.
  5. Provide guidance on health care resources: Employers can provide contact information for hospitals, qualified local providers, public health agencies, emergency hotlines and behavioral health professionals. Mental health resources are particularly helpful for parents experiencing stress-related disorders. Employers can also provide workers with guidance for safe transport to health care facilities.
  6. Relieve financial pressures: Many working parents are stretched thin financially. Potential support measures include employment protections, paid sick leave, and economic transfers like childcare benefits and subsidies for unexpected medical expenditures.

Giving working parents the time and support they need to care for their children helps relieve anxiety and promotes productivity. A positive track record in this area is also an effective recruitment tool at a time when many employers are struggling to find qualified employees.

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