Tipping Point Explores New Avenues to Support Working Parents

By: Stephanie Lewis

Since 2013, Tipping Point has invested in Research and Development, referred to as R+D, to fill gaps in the non-profit sector and explore new poverty-fighting ideas. Known as T Lab, our R+D team researches and tests innovative social services in partnership with our grantees and the Bay Area community at large. T Lab’s community-centered approach, emergent process and capacity to prototype a myriad of ideas allows its team to address some of the most complex challenges that non-profits struggle to overcome. As T Lab’s Director, I want to share with you some of our work as it unfolds, so starting this month I’ll be updating you regularly on ideas we’re testing and exploring as it’s happening.

Challenge: Finding Affordable, Quality Childcare

One challenge T Lab is currently focused on is the issue of affordable childcare for low-income Bay Area families. Quality care makes it possible for parents to get to work and earn the income they need to get on the road out of poverty — and makes it possible for them to best prepare their children to succeed at school. Many low-income parents are only able to take advantage of support services and opportunities for education and training if childcare is provided.

Discovery: Need Is Even Greater Than We Thought

In our exploration of this complex issue, T Lab has engaged with a variety of community members — from experts running successful childcare businesses to parents themselves — to challenge assumptions around childcare and explore new models.

In this first year of this work, we discovered the tremendous need for affordable care. Only 8% of San Francisco kids who qualify for subsidized care receive it, leaving 4,000 kids on the wait list. Working parents must then turn to other — often much more expensive — sources for care. On average, 49% of a single mom’s salary in California is spent on infant care.

This need is deepened by the terms under which many low-income parents and caregivers are employed. The recent growth of low-wage part-time jobs with non-standard (night and weekend), irregularly scheduled hours has disproportionately affected low-income wage-earners, leaving many low-income parents struggling to find childcare last minute or at times when it is less commonly available. According to the National Women’s Law Center, out of 4.5 million low-wage working mothers in the United States, half are the sole parent for the family and 30% work what we consider non-standard hours. Existing childcare systems just aren’t keeping up with the need to support these families.

Test: Re-create the Informal Childcare Provided by Family and Friends

Because the cost of licensed care is so expensive, we decided to spend our second year re-imagining the informal childcare networks of family and friends to meet this need. We tested a service concept we called Gma Village that mobilized trusted grandmothers as a network of available caregivers using a digital platform.

While we learned a great deal from this prototype, by our third year we became increasingly aware of the fragmented nature of child care solutions. With the considerable amount of work and time required to piece together formal childcare with informal support from friends and family (which according to the David & Lucile Packard Foundation is reportedly the most common care option for 49% of California families), low-income parents are far too often forced to choose between either holding steady employment or providing care for their children.

Very few licensed childcare centers provide the kind of after-hours drop-in care that low-income parents need, government funding for subsidized childcare spots is limited, and with studies showing that at least 28% of low-income Americans work non-standard work hours, many parents cannot take advantage of traditional childcare because of the hours it is available.

Next: Addressing the Challenge around the Clock, Bringing in More Partners

After exploring the existing limitations of childcare, T Lab is now looking toward new scalable childcare models, and focusing specifically on low-wage shift workers who need 24-hour childcare.

We’re currently partnering with Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC) to dig into this issue. ROC’s mission is to ensure that all people who work in restaurants can achieve financial independence and improve their quality of life. Based in New York City, ROC has 10 local chapters across the country, including a Bay Area office in Oakland.

We’ve chosen to focus on restaurant workers in particular because, as ROC’s research has documented, many restaurant employees exemplify the challenges of maintaining shift work that keep low-income workers, people of color and women locked in a cycle of poverty. Adding to these challenges is the increasing cost of living in the Bay Area, where wages don’t go as far as it would in many other parts of the country.

This problem will only persist as the restaurant industry continues to grow. A recent ROC report estimates that 1 in 11 Americans work in the industry increasing the need for low-wage workers at non-standard work hours. It also details how the need for childcare regularly causes restaurant workers to drop out of stable employment to care for young children, and recommends the formalization and regulation of night care for these workers. The report also calls on the restaurant industry itself to play a larger role.

By teaming up with ROC, T Lab will now work with a robust community of low-income workers who are motivated to find childcare solutions. While we don’t know yet what solutions will emerge from the process, we do know that through incorporating restaurant workers, business owners and childcare providers every step of the way, we’ll have community buy-in, bring equity and inclusion to an overlooked but critical issue, and get a sense of what ideas will thrive in the real world.

All of us here at T Lab are excited to explore — follow along here for updates!

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