From child care collectives to nanny shares, here are several novel ways parents are making child care work for them during the COVID-19 crisis.

By Maressa Brown
August 25, 2020
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Well before families found themselves grappling with the unnerving COVID-19 pandemic this year, the country was already facing a child care crisis. But the pandemic has only served to highlight—and worsen—existing cracks in our system. According to new research from the U.S. Census Bureau and Federal Reserve, around 1 in 5 (18.2 percent) of working-age adults said they were not working because COVID-19 affected their child care arrangements. Clearly, parents are in need of more concrete solutions.

"During this quarantine, parents have had to get really creative about finding child care so they can work," says Roseann Capanna-Hodge, Ed.D., a certified school psychologist and licensed professional counselor based in Ridgefield, Connecticut.

From child care collectives to nanny shares and pandemic pods, here are five inventive child care solutions parents are exploring during this crisis.

Credit: susan.k./Getty Images

1. Child Care Collective

Whether we're talking about fighting for social justice or caring for kids, the pandemic continues to prove that it takes a village. And that's a message that some politicians are hoping to send as they work to help address constituents' child care challenges. Earlier this month, in an online workshop, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez paired up with Jabari Brisport, the Democratic nominee for New York's 25th State Senate district, to talk about child care collectives.

"One of the reasons why there is so much pressure to reopen schools physically is because parents and families have not gotten the economic support that they need," explained Ocasio-Cortez in the workshop. "So, now we're in a place where let's figure out one solution that people can apply directly in their life." That solution: Parents should lean on neighbors and other parents they trust, she said. Describing a child care collective as a "round robin type of situation," Ocasio-Cortez said that a collective allows parents to "get some time off" while "someone else takes the ball that day."

In short, a collective is a network of people giving and receiving care. For every hour you "give," you "receive" an hour in return, courtesy of what's referred to as a timebank. All hours are equal. For instance, one hour of tutoring is equivalent to one hour of outdoor activity or one hour of translations support. Everyone participating in the timebank is encouraged to discuss the safety protocols everyone is following, as well as communication expectations for if a child or someone in the child's pod has recently had risky contact.

Brisport agreed that the idea is filling a very real void for parents, telling Parents.com, "The current administration has completely failed to provide for working families throughout this crisis. Just as mutual aid networks arose to fill in a need for groceries and medicine early on in this pandemic, child care collectives will have to arise to fill a need for child care."

Ocasio-Cortez' campaign is offering families a toolkit to get started.

2. Co-Quarantining

A slightly less formal alternative to the community- and timebank-based child care collective: co-quarantining, in which two or three families band together to care for one another's kids exclusively. It's a trend that has taken off lately and might also be referred to as a "pandemic pod" or "pandemic family," explains Shenandoah Davis, co-founder and CEO of Adventure Nannies in New York City.  

Dr. Capanna-Hodge echoes Davis, noting that a pandemic pod is a small group of families that get together and agree upon how they're managing not just learning and dividing up responsibilities, but how they are socially distancing and following sanitization procedures. "Typically, each family takes the pod or group for a day and is responsible for educating them and socializing," she explains. "Having to educate a small group one day a week is a much more viable option for working parents. The upside of a pandemic pod is kids get to socialize and the responsibilities are shared."

Vanessa McGrady, a single mom in Glendale, California, organically fell into a co-quarantining set-up with parents of her daughter's friends. "At the beginning of the summer, one of the families had a teenage cousin come out and take care of all the girls during the day for two weeks, and we called it 'camp,'" she explains. "Then, the cousin went home, and for the rest of the summer, we basically just rotated houses. All the girls would be at one place every day, so at least some parents could get some work done some of the time."

McGrady says it's understood that the families all pretty much stay within their bubble. "If someone feels sick, like a dad the other day, we'll wait until a COVID test comes back negative before we see each other," she explains.

3. Nanny Share

Hiring a full-time nanny can easily feel like a daunting expense for many families, but sharing the cost with another family can feel more doable. It's for that reason that nanny shares—in which two or more families, typically with similarly-aged children, share the cost of a caregiver—have become increasingly popular during the pandemic, says Katie Provinziano, managing director of Westside Nannies in Beverly Hills, California.

This arrangement offers benefits for both the caregiver and the parents: "Nannies are typically paid more in a nanny share because they are working with two families while each family pays a bit less than market rate, making it a win-win for all involved and a more affordable option for families," she notes. "It's also a nice way to get a little social interaction with a family you trust."

She does advise that parents considering a nanny share pair up with a family who has the same COVID safety perimeters they do, as well as a similar parenting style, discipline philosophy, schedule, and length of commitment. "We typically suggest the care be provided at one family's home," she advises. "Something many families don’t think about is that the 'hosting' family will really need two of everything—high chairs, cribs, etc.—so it’s definitely a big commitment."

Both Care.com and Apiari are helpful resources for setting up a nanny share.

4. Small, Outdoor Group Child Care

As parents attempt to balance kids' safety with their need to have enriching and fun experiences, some are seeking outdoor education and child care programs. Private companies, like Tinkergarten and Kinder Outside, are supporting this search by helping parents find outdoor activity-focused pods.

"We are outdoor-focused, because in addition to the lessened risk of exposure to the virus, we know that outdoor activities lower stress levels, improve moods, and offer a blank slate for creative exploration and learning," explains Marla Schuchman, Kinder Outside founder and CEO. "We offer both co-op pods led by parents, and facilitated pods led by vetted caregivers and other professionals. If a parent needs simple child care, they can find a facilitator and/or join a pod that shares their needs for care and risk exposure."

5. Educator/Nanny Hybrid

As kids dive back into distanced learning, parents are looking for nannies who can double as a tutor, says Provinziano. "We've seen recent surge in parents looking to hire educationally-focused nannies or private educators to oversee and supplement their children's online learning," she says.

For example, a teaching nanny might oversee the children's virtual learning, keep track of assignments, review homework, and even communicate with teachers or tutor kids on concepts they're struggling with. "It’s a lot to manage, especially if you are a working parent," says Provinziano. For that reason, hiring someone to wear both caregiver and teacher hats can serve as a major relief.

Consider also checking out Care.com and Apiari to find a teaching nanny.

The Bottom Line

As the pandemic continues to present parents with one challenge after the next, Davis says they deserve to give themselves a pat on the back for finding ways to navigate these uncharted waters. "So many families have gotten really creative and ingenious with how to make this work," she notes. "Families and nannies are making the best of the situation, and they are all trying to be a lot more flexible, knowing that no solution is going to be 100 percent right, but it needs to be the best we can make it for right now."

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