The Washington Post ran a story yesterday on the "nanny glut" and it caught our attention -- partly for what it didn't say. Turns out that the recession has led many families to let go of their nannies, usually because mom or dad no longer have a job or their work hours were cut. Then the story took an interesting tack, suggesting that this was a boon for relatively well-off, working parents. As the story reported, parents can finally be choosy about which nanny they hire, instead of having to beg and scrounge to find the right person.
Nanny stories are always fun to read -- I was among the throngs who gulped down The Nanny Diaries when it came out in 2002 -- but are we alone here in feeling that there was something missing from the Post's treatment of this issue? For instance: How is the recession affecting less well-off families, those who are either finding their paychecks shrinking or who were never quite making enough money to pay for a nanny in the first place?
Other questions that are on our mind as we continue to learn about the depth of the recession and its impact on children:
1) Anecdotally we are hearing that enrollment is down at child care centers and in afterschool programs. Where are these children going? And are child care centers having to lay off staff as a result? Who are they choosing to lay off first -- staff members with relatively little experience? Or the ones with higher education levels and more training who typically have higher salaries and are therefore more expensive for child care centers to employ?
2) How are grandparents getting involved -- and do they really want to be suddenly taking care of young children for hours a day? Fran Simon, the chief of parent engagement at the National Association for Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies, has been hearing more stories of children being left with grandma. This could be great or terrible for children, depending on how engaged grandparents really want to be in the day-to-day work of raising children.
3) City pools, libraries and shopping malls: These are the spots where many desperate parents leave their young school-age children in the summer. What kind of burden is this placing on these settings? Who is watching the kids? (And are older siblings in charge of the younger ones?) For purposes of policy, the use of informal settings like these makes it very hard to track where children end up and how many need better child care.
4) Are parents redirecting their children to unregulated centers and family-based home settings? Simon of NACCRRA worries about this because the quality of care can be much lower in such settings. We do too.
5) Will the au pair program see a boost in interest? The "On Parenting" blog of WashingtonPost.com ran a helpful post today about the program, which for parents is a cross between a cultural exchange program and hiring a nanny. Au pairs come from other countries to stay with families for a year or two, learning English and taking college courses while helping to take care of young children for up to 45 hours a week. Many parents consider it to be more affordable childcare -- though because it requires a family to have a home big enough to house a boarder, it's typically out of reach for many working-class families.
As the summer unfolds we at Early Ed Watch will keep our eyes open for data and stories that can give us a better sense of exactly how families are coping with the child care conundrum in this down economy. Drop us a line if you know of sources we should be tapping.