Historically, families with children have been marginalized by a lack of prioritization of childcare across industries. With demand surging, what can event planners do to provide what parents need? Image by www.childrensmagetfranchise.com.
One of the least-talked about aspects of event planning is childcare. But post-pandemic, the issue is finally being forced: While many companies that facilitate childcare at events went out of business during lockdowns, those that remain are in high demand. With the return of in-person events in nearly full swing, it's understandable that many parents and guardians are attending them with children in tow. But while newly booming business is good news for companies that provide this service, the surge of demand also presents challenges. With staffing shortages and increasing costs of shipping and wages, childcare requires a bigger budget than it did pre-pandemic.
According to Diane Lyons, founder of Accent on Children's Arrangements, a Lousiana-based company that serves conferences across the country, costs have gone up a whopping 20 to 25% since before the pandemic. Childcare workers were always hard to find and keep, but after the pandemic devastated many childcare businesses, they became even more scarce. In order to attract more workers, many organizations have had to substantially increase pay.
Childcare at Events Was Problematic Pre-Pandemic
The scarcity of childcare at events was a problem long before the pandemic hit. Now, corporations are joining forces to reform the sector so that families with children will be less marginalized- but they have a long way to go. Image by www.brighthorizons.com.
Historically, the corporate world has marginalized working parents and guardians by forcing them to choose between attending conferences for professional development and caring for children. Although this structure is becoming outdated and solutions are slowly being implemented, childcare is still not prioritized the way it needs to be for working parents to achieve success with ease.
According to research by Science Careers, about 64% of U.S. conferences currently provide attendees with some form of childcare. However, that care may come in various forms. While some events offer free or paid childcare onsite, others provide programs that reimburse parents for specific childcare expenses. Under the umbrella term "childcare" are also lactation rooms, family rooms where children can spend breaks with parents, and generally child-friendly accommodations throughout a venue. So while 64% is more than half, it's hardly an indicator of adequate childcare across the board.
Hence new efforts to rebuild the sector, which does not come without new challenges. Christine Tempesta, owner of San Diego-based KiddieCorp, says that ensuring all new hires were fully vaccinated was a challenge. "You would think all childcare workers are vaccinated, but that's not true", she relates. She goes on to share that her company has had to build new staff pools in over 35 cities. However Tempesta also says that paying workers higher wages has led to a more professional, experienced staff. Furthermore, the level of commitment from workers has increased, resulting in fewer call-outs and greater reliability.
Challenges and Drawbacks
Although the childcare in the event industry faces steep challenges, Lyons does remain cautiously optimistic about positive outcomes. Image by www.post.edu.
Of course, the potential downside to this is that clients are now paying higher costs for childcare. For the larger corporations like KiddieCorp, this hasn't presented a steep challenge; Tempesta says that parents have been understanding for the most part. The company's clients, who are typically national associations, have begun to subsidize all or part of the expenses for parents and guardians. According to Tempesta, this hasn't been an altogether negative development; when attendees are partially responsible for the cost of childcare, they're less likely to sign up for it and end up not using the service.
Compared to previous years, the demand for childcare is still less than what it was pre-pandemic. While this puts higher demand on companies, who must pay workers more while bringing in less capital, it's a boon for safety. Companies like KiddieCorp say that it's easier to follow COVID protocols, especially those involving social distancing, with less children in one space.
Most of Lyons' returning clients are currently government and association organizations. Post-pandemic, corporate clients are still lagging behind. Lyons chalks some of this up to the fact that the travel business is still ensconced in a long recovery process. Corporations simply aren't traveling as much as they used to yet. However, Lyons is optimistic that this will change with time.
What Does The Future Hold?
Current research shows that the childcare sector continues to progress, if slowly. Image by www.fastcompany.com.
Although the business faces steep challenges, both Lyons and Tempesta predict that the childcare industry at events will continue to grow. They attribute this largely to the growth of women in professional organizations across industries. Women are not just often primary caregivers for children; they also tend to be strong advocates of the industry, working to allocate resources and rebuild the sector. As women continue to increasingly populate the professional world, including math and science-related jobs, the demand for childcare at events will likely keep increasing.
How Can You Provide Childcare to Your Attendees?
Many businesses don't provide childcare simply because they don't know how. Here are some simple steps you can take to explore your options. Image by www.verywellfamily.com.
Obviously, many smaller businesses can't afford to become clients of corporations like KiddieCorp- although it should be noted that KiddieCorp and other similar companies offer services with the option for parents to foot the entire bill. Event creators with smaller budgets might also consider partnering with licensed providers in the area to figure out a more cost-effective solution. And if childcare is simply not something that fits in your budget or is not a key need for your audience, you may want to include links to nearby childcare services in your registration process.
As we mentioned before, subsidizing costs of childcare can also be a budget-friendlier option. For its 2019 conference, the International Communication Association did just that. Instead of paying $15 per hour, attendees who utilized childcare onsite paid only $5 per hour. A post-conference survey by ICA showed that 90% of respondents said having childcare made a difference as to whether they would attend; 90% of respondents also shared that they would use the childcare service again in the future.
Complementary programs and grants for childcare also exist. For example, the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics offers conference grants that can be used to cover childcare services at the event or home. The grants also cover travel expenses for the child and/or the expense of bringing a caregiver to the conference. Values of grants are decided by the average cost of care.
One of the things we like about the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM) is that they continue to experiment with different solutions rather than rely on just one. Recognizing the diversity and unique needs of families, SIAM has explored offering group care through third-party vendors, providing message boards that facilitate care coordination, and reimbursing the cost of services.
All in all, the industry is just beginning to give childcare at events the attention it needs and deserves. To be fair, many businesses relegate it to the bottom of their to-do list because it doesn't fit into their post-pandemic budget and they don't have the resources to explore cheaper options. Hopefully, this post has provided some helpful starting tips if your business is endeavoring to provide childcare.