Lacking childcare: Santa Clara County’s employees would turn down promotions
A child plays with blocks. Finding care during the pandemic has been a struggle for many working parents. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Almost two-thirds of Santa Clara County employees say juggling work and childcare has made it impossible to achieve their career goals—even saying they’d turn down promotions.

“It’s horrible because you feel like a bad worker and a bad parent at the same time and you’re basically just trying to keep your child alive,” an employee said in an anonymous study.

According to the study, about 60 percent of county employees have at least one child in their household, and only 43 percent of employees with children feel they successfully balance work and childcare all or most of the time.

Supervisors are considering a host of solutions to address their employee’s concerns about childcare, but one might seem obvious: Providing onsite, affordable childcare in a convenient location for employees who need it. County officials presented options that consider renovating county spaces at both 70 West Hedding Street and the Silver Creek Campus in southeast San Jose.

“As we’ve all seen, the pandemic has laid bare the need for quality childcare options in order to support our essential workers,” said Supervisor Susan Ellenberg. “I would like for us to become the standard-bearer for supporting our workforce (with childcare) on an ongoing basis.”

Still, neither idea is an immediate solution. The projects, if approved by supervisors, are estimated to take up to two years from approval to opening and cost about $10 million each.

Multiple county employees contributed their voices to the report presented to supervisors.

“To have a second child is a luxury,” said an employee. “Some people had to have the discussion whether or not to quit their job, I had the discussion that we could not afford a second child for that particular reason. That’s how serious the financial struggle is for people…in this county.”

Employees said they paid, on average, $372 per week in childcare fees, totaling up to an annual cost of more than $19,000 a year.

Paying for childcare and finding the time to drop a child off and pick them up from daycare are stressful for the majority of parents, respondents said.

Requesting support

Only about half of county employees with children felt their employer is aware of their needs. The majority of employees with children asked for the basics, namely flexibility and support. The top request from employees was to be able to use paid sick time to take care of their sick children.

“There’s no magic answer here. Especially given how our country views childcare, especially early childcare,” an employee said. “I think we have never really prioritized it, so the county can’t fix every structural issue tied to childcare. But what I think the county can do is provide the best available access to information, resources, supports around whatever kind of flexibility is needed and becoming more employee-centric.”

County officials will take up the issue again at the county’s Children, Seniors and Families Committee meeting on March 25.

“We should be acting with urgency,” Ellenberg said. “When our employees are absent from work due to breakdowns in childcare arrangements, we cannot provide optimal service to tens of thousands of clients that rely on county services every day.”

Contact Madelyn Reese at [email protected] or follow @MadelynGReese on Twitter.

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