Connecting the Dots on the Importance of Investing in Childcare Solutions
Magnify Ventures Advisor Q&A: Dr. Laura Jana
A few weeks ago, we announced the launch of our inaugural $52M Magnify Ventures fund focused on early-stage technology companies that will transform how we live, work and care for one another.
Our topic today is child care. One-third of the U.S. workforce has a child under 14 at home, and one in 3 working families struggle to find child care. The fact that reliable child care is largely unavailable and often unaffordable has massive implications for both the U.S. economy and U.S. families. With a lack of childcare during the pandemic responsible for 20% of working parents leaving or reducing their time at work and a full 26% of unemployment amongst women during the pandemic due to lack of childcare, it is no wonder that both employers and policymakers are now aggressively joining forces with parents and those in the child care sector in seeking sustainable solutions.
We sat down with one of our advisors, pediatrician and 10-year owner of an educational child care center Dr. Laura Jana, to discuss the crisis in America’s child care system — exacerbated by the pandemic — and the importance, particularly to the development of the next workforce generation, of investing in quality, accessible child care.
You were one of the first early childhood advocates to sound the alarm about the potential impact of the pandemic on child care as early as March 2020. Now, over two years later, with the benefit of hindsight, how has your concern and advice evolved?
Dr. Laura Jana:
For nearly two decades, I have been actively involved in advocating for systems-level prioritization of investments in early childhood and child care. I was also the owner of a 200-student educational child care center when “swine flu” (ie H1N1) gave us an early glimpse of the challenges when child care centers are at the “front line” in terms of exposure and spread, but last in line for guidance and support.
So when COVID-19 hit in March of 2020 and “essential workers” came to the forefront, it was immediately clear to me that anyone deemed an essential worker who also happened to be a parent was going to be inherently dependent on child care in order to keep working. For example, if health care professionals were essential and needed to keep working, then so too would the child care providers who took care of their children. Only a couple of weeks into the pandemic, pointing out that we needed to add child care providers to the list of essential workers (and treat, support, and appreciate them accordingly) seemed a bit “out there” to some, but certainly not today.
How did the market eventually respond to your call to action? Are we worse off or better?
Dr. Laura Jana:
I’d say a bit of both. On the one hand, we are better off in that the pandemic effectively raised our country’s collective awareness regarding the critical importance of quality, affordable, accessible child care, especially when we were faced with the reality of it being taken away. This pandemic-induced rude awakening has, on the positive side, led to a much greater interest in and increased commitment to financial support for the early childhood sector.
That said, on the “worse” side of the coin, the reality is that even prior to the pandemic, child care was a tenuous sector that struggled with employee turnover and ran on razor-thin margins. Feeling the full force of being on the front lines of the pandemic, a concerningly large number of child care programs shut down permanently, while those still operating continue to be faced with significant staffing shortages, and concerns related to financial viability.
Just at the time when we, as a country, collectively are recognizing the inherent value of the early care and education sector, it continues to face unprecedented challenges.
How do employers play into child care solutions?
Dr. Laura Jana:
Bringing this point back to the last two years from an employer's perspective — a parent can only be productive at work with the reassurance that their child is safe and in good hands. If you recall in the summer of 2020, when people first started discussing if and when to re-open businesses, the biggest factor that ended up driving office decisions was whether or not child care programs remained closed.
As an expert on child development, why do you feel high-quality child care is so fundamental?
Dr. Laura Jana:
There is now an abundance of scientific evidence that proves that the first five years represent a particularly critical window to help children develop the foundational skills they will need to thrive. It has become increasingly clear that the most important factor in ensuring healthy brain and child development during these foundational years is interactions with a caring, responsive adult. Why? Because right down to the connecting of neurons in the developing brain, it is the environment and the interactions with caring, responsive adults that literally serve to shape a child’s brain architecture. This is certainly true of parents, but it cannot be overlooked that childcare providers also stand to play a critical role as chief architects as well.
“The list of skills deemed most necessary for success in the 21st Century by the World Economic Forum are the very same skills that have their foundational development in the earliest years of childhood.”
This has an enormous impact on the future of work. The list of skills deemed most necessary for success in the 21st Century by the World Economic Forum are the very same skills that have their foundational development in the earliest years of childhood. From communication, collaboration, teamwork, and empathy to resilience, perseverance, and adaptability, we can draw a direct line back to their cultivation in the first five years of a person’s life, with a few established developmental milestones and some really compelling neuroscience to back it up. In other words, if it’s these sorts of 21st Century skills the business world is after, then the case I make is that we need to be looking further upstream and investing in their development…including quality childcare solutions. (Link to Laura’s book: “The Toddler Brain: Nurture the Skills Today that Will Shape Your Child’s Tomorrow”)
Finally, as we consider the future of work with respect to the impact of technology — including anticipated technology-related job displacement — what seems to be agreed upon by even the top AI experts is that jobs in the caring sector — which would most certainly include those who provide quality child care — are the ones that will not be replaced by computers any time soon, and whose value stands to increase significantly in the years to come.
Magnify Ventures just invested in Kinside, the leading marketplace for quality child care placements. What advice do you have for their team to build the best directory service and employer solution?
Dr. Laura Jana:
I think there is huge opportunity and value in not only helping match parents’ child care needs (and constraints) with available childcare options but also helping create the supporting infrastructure and data-informed strategies needed to prioritize child care as a benefit for working parents. By working to understand, accommodate, and support the specific child care needs of parents, providers, and businesses, I think Kinside has the potential to significantly enhance the availability, access, and delivery of quality child care.