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Parenting benefits company Cleo partners with UrbanSitter to address the US childcare crisis

Parenting benefits company Cleo is partnering with on-demand childcare service UrbanSitter to address a problem facing many parents today amid the pandemic: a lack of childcare, even as they’re required to return to work. With summer camps, daycares and schools shut down for the months ahead, parents who need to work outside the home (or even inside, but without distraction) no longer have options. Cleo’s new solution, Cleo Care, powered by UrbanSitter, aims to address this problem. The company is offering a package to employers that will help connect families with vetted caregivers via concierge support or, as an alternative, with family co-op options, depending on the parents’ preference.

The program will additionally include access to other Cleo support programs, like one-on-one coaching and age-appropriate programs focused on developmental milestones, delivered weekly.

The launch of the new product arrives at a time when the coronavirus outbreak has caused a childcare crisis in the U.S. Working parents have become homeschool teachers, on top of their already overwhelming number of duties. Parents fortunate enough to work from home, however, are continually interrupted by children’s needs, leading to longer working hours to accomplish tasks, and often mental and physical exhaustion.

Cleo surveyed its member base in April 2020, roughly 80% of whom are in the U.S., and found that more than 50% of respondents didn’t have any childcare options due to the pandemic’s impact. It also learned that 1 in 5 families (with two parents) were considering having one partner leave the workforce in order to manage the care of the children. Meanwhile, 37% were considering having family move in.

Among those who were working, more than half felt their productivity was 75% or less than usual. And 1 in 4 felt their productivity was less than 50% of baseline.

The problem is massive. In the U.S. alone, there are 30.5 million working families, based on Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The Cleo Care solution will be made available to U.S. employers this month to give parents more options, as well as help employers to bring their staff back to work, when the time comes.

Of course, there’s a variety of opinions about how and when the U.S. should re-open its economy. But the reality is that some parents will need to return to their jobs ahead of the re-opening of child care centers or summer camp programs, many of which have been canceled. In Facebook groups, parents are already trying to solve the problem for themselves by organizing with neighbors for childcare co-ops or by hiring teens or college students for daytime babysitting jobs.

But not everyone has these options. And employers can’t just direct staff to Facebook to find a caregiver.

Instead, the Cleo Care program will provide member parents with concierge support for finding vetted care providers from the UrbanSitter network. Or if the families would prefer to work with neighbors, the solution can also offer to match network members interested in co-op solutions.

These features are new to UrbanSitter, which has never before offered co-op matching and is making the new concierge service exclusive to Cleo Care.

“As working moms desperate for a solution to the crisis facing parents today, we were focused on developing a solution that didn’t just work for our members and enterprise clients, but also one that we’d use ourselves. After experimenting and trying everything from virtual care to scheduling shifts to looking for new caregivers ourselves, we realized the only solution that would work for families would require a new model of childcare designed for the unique issues COVID-19 has created,” said Cleo CEO Sarahjane Sacchetti.

Sacchetti, the former chief marketing officer of Collective Health, stepped in to lead Cleo after its original co-founder Shannon Spanhake was ousted following issues around company culture and a falsified resumé. Since then, Cleo has been expanding its business in the form of numerous partnerships, including those with Natalist, Milk Stork, Playfully, Dadi and others.

The solution will roll out in pilot testing with large U.S. employers to start, the company says. International employers will have access to its Cleo Kids coaching solution while Cleo looks for partnerships with care provider networks outside the U.S.

The employers will pay a combined monthly membership fee for access to Cleo Kids and UrbanSitter as well as one-time matching fees for co-op matching or care provider matching and placement, when used by a family. Cleo says it’s working with employers to explore models to cover some of the matching costs, which can be supported if an employer offers a dependent care FSA.

A sign-up form is here.

Image credits: Cleo

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How child care startups in the U.S. are helping families cope with the COVID-19 crisis

The COVID-19 pandemic has upended the lives of billions of people around the world. For many parents with young children in the United States, shelter in place orders implemented in different areas over the past few weeks mean they now spend each day balancing work with taking care of their …

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UK’s Tiney raises $6.5M to source, train and connect childminders to improve early-years care

A shortage of good teachers and carers is an acute problem in the world of education. Getting smart people into the profession is hard when the pay is not great and the stresses coming from above and below are very real and very persistent. And it turns out that challenge is compounded in the early years, before children even enter school: the pay for nursery teachers and childminders is even less than that for K-12 teachers, a fact not helped by the lack of a cohesive institutional system to bring in and bring up talent in an area that has a wide array of permutations (nursery, nanny, family, etc.).

Now, a startup out of London is announcing some funding to tackle that very large early years challenge with a two-sided marketplace of sorts. Tiney — which sources people interested in being childminders (which in the UK means individuals who take charge usually of up to six children depending on age, who apply for and get licenses from the educational authority to operating childminder schemes in the country), trains them to run childcare services out of their homes, and then helps childcare-seeking parents discover them, all while running the admin underpinning that ecosystem — has raised £5 million ($6.5 million) to scale its idea in earnest.

The funding is being led by Index Ventures, with LocalGlobe (founded by former Index partners Saul and Robin Klein) and JamJar Investments (the investment firm linked to the founders of Innocent Drinks) also participating. Hannah Seal, a principal from Index Ventures, is joining the board with this round.

The startup is the brainchild of Brett Wigdortz, a London-based, American-bred ex-McKinsey consultant who has already started and grown two celebrated non-profit organisations to tackle teacher shortage problems in K-12 public education.

In the UK, he started Teach First, which recruits recent university grads take jobs as teachers in state schools — with a particular focus on disadvantaged school catchments — as their first foray into the job market. (It is now the single biggest employer out of Oxford and Cambridge.) Buoyed by that growth, he then took the idea international with Teach for All, co-founded with Wendy Kopp, who had built a similar teachers corps in the US called Teach For America.

As with Teach for All, Wigdortz, who is the CEO, has a co-founder for his latest effort: Edd Read (CTO), who previously had been the founder of Graze, the healthy snack company that sold to Unilever last year, is Tiney’s other founder, which makes JamJar’s investment an interesting one. Healthy-but-fun foods are essentially focused on products to improve the well-being of families and kids; and in a sense, so is Tiney.

The problem as Wigdortz sees it is one of quality and quantity.

On the quality side, that there has been, relatively speaking, more focus on children once they enter school — a focus he himself cultivated with his previous organisations — with a lot of neglect of the years preceding that time. But when you look closer, you can chart a good part of children’s outcomes starting before they ever entered school. One part of the problem is that early-years care is not often thought of as early-years education, and in keeping with that, the people providing that care are often thought of as more than just babysitters rather than educators, with little in the way of providing ongoing training and support for best practices around fun activities that help with child development.

“The big gap was that kids weren’t getting good preschool educations,” he said in an interview. “We were finding that a lot of kids in year one [kindergarten age in the US] weren’t verbal and just weren’t ready for school. In some cases, parents are working all the time or really struggling.” And on the part of the providers, “they weren’t treated as professionals,” he continued. “They just didn’t get good professional development or support. Realising how broken it was is what got me interested in the sector.”

On the quantity side, well, the numbers speak for themselves. In 2000, there were 100,000 registered childminders in the UK. Today, there are only 40,000.

What caused that massive drop? Apart from having less interest in a field that isn’t respected much and has a lot of stress associated with it, there is the problem of simply proactively recruiting people and making childminders easy to find.

While each local authority (how a lot of social services are administered in the UK) provides directories to parents of childminders in a given region, the system is not ideal for sourcing much information beyond names, contact details and addresses — making it a daunting task to use to find someone to entrust with your young person.

On the part of the childminders themselves, a process does exist today that sits within the public system — you get a paediatric first aid certificate; you complete a short training course approved by your local authority; you join the Ofsted Early Years Register and get a criminal record check for anyone over 16 living with you; you get a home inspection and you get insurance. Childminders subsequently keep journals on each child to communicate progress on early-years targets both to parents and the authorities.

But Wigdortz notes that while that looks like a simple enough list, it’s at the same time actually a long and bureaucratic process and any recruitment of new people is virtually nonexistent because of all the cutbacks local authorities have faced.

Going the usual route is also not ideal in terms of providing any kind of continuous training or monitoring of the childminders once they have completed the final step. 

Tiney is taking a tech approach to solving what is essentially an analogue challenge.

It is trying to “streamline the process,” in his words, while at the same time create a platform for more enriched training — which involves both in-person and online coursework — before people get started as childminders; and subsequent to that, it provides more continuous development, and a way of tracking progress online that is easily monitored by the parent compared to a hand-written journal.

When childminders are ready to work, they get listed on Tiney’s site, are booked through there, and Tiney handles all of the messaging and invoicing between childminders and parents after. While all of the training, onboarding, development and ongoing support are free, Tiney makes a 10% commission on every job/contract booked through its platform. It’s a formula that is currently attracting more people than it has room to handle: only about 20% of applicants to Tiney’s program get accepted to complete the training, Wigdortz said.

The system is not just about bringing in more people into the childminding profession, but about making the whole concept and opportunity more open to more people. The average age today of a Tiney minder is early thirties, with about half of the population classified as “BAME” with a good dose of immigrants, but also white professionals, he said. “We have bankers who are taking career breaks when they have kids, and some have worked in nurseries before and now want to do something more independent,” he said.

Wigdortz came at this problem from the perspective of being able to source more talent and get it into the early-years caregiving and education pipeline. But the reason why it, and other programs like it — which include the likes of nanny service Koru Kids (also coincidentally started by a McKinsey alum) and Wonderschool in the US, which like Tiney also focuses on the ‘home-based childminder’ running small ad hoc nurseries format — are needed and will hopefully succeed is because they are filling a critical gap with parents and guardians.

On that side, three of the issues that Tiney is helping to address are discovery, trust and affordability.

When you are a working parent, securing good childcare can be one of the more stressful aspects of raising your kids when they are young. Choosing from many options (nursery? nanny? au pair? family? quit job and hang with kid yourself because the options are too expensive or scary?), and then finding people who you trust will understand and nurture your kids, is not easy. And throwing money at the challenge doesn’t necessarily help, and if money is an issue, that comes with its own set of problems.

In the UK, the childminder option is one that cuts across those famous British class lines, I’ve found. Those with financial means might opt for it to give their kids a more social experience than a one-per-family nanny or au pair but without the more institutional feeling and class numbers of a full-on nursery. Those with less means will consider childminders because they might be on par with the price of a nursery (and will be coverable by the same vouchers they might use if they’re on income support) but, again, provide more of a home-based environment that will feel more comfortable to a child under the age of 5, or for pre-secondary school aged kids in the after-school hours.

Tiney is currently adding around 25 new childminders per week, Wigdortz said, which is small but growing. The idea is that with this funding, it will be able to onboard more and grow faster.

“After improving primary and secondary education for millions of children through Teach First, Brett is now tackling some of the biggest challenges parents, children and the society face in the very early years,” said Seal at Index Ventures. “For parents of young children, sorting out childcare is often a struggle with limited often-costly and inadequate options. For educators, there is not always an easy path to a career in early years education, which has led to rapidly declining numbers of childminders across the UK. We’re excited to partner with Brett to address this growing crisis and create a system that puts more focus on children during the most critical years of development.”

Source: TechCrunch

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2020 will be a big year for online childcare — here are 7 startups to watch

Over the weekend, media and digital brand holding company IAC announced that it had agreed to buy, which describes itself as “the world’s largest online family care platform,” in a deal valued at about $500 million. Despite being the best-known marketplace in the United States for finding child and senior caregivers, has spent the past nine months dealing with the fallout from a Wall Street Journal investigative article that detailed potentially dangerous gaps in its vetting process. The company’s issues not only highlight the problems with scaling a marketplace created to find caregivers for the most vulnerable members of society, but also the United States’ childcare crisis.

Childcare in the United States is weighed down with many issues and arguably no one platform can fix it, no matter how large or well-known. Over the past year and a half, however, several startups dedicated to fixing specific challenges have raised funding, including Wonderschool, Kinside and Winnie.

IAC and’s announcement came at the end of a year when more media attention has been paid to the difficulties American parents face in finding and affording childcare, and how that contributes to gender disparities, falling birthrates and other social issues. The U.S. is the only industrialized nation in the world without mandated paid parental leave and childcare is one of the biggest expenses for families. Several Democratic presidential candidates, including Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, have made universal childcare part of their platform and business leaders like Alexis Ohanian are using their clout to advocate for better family leave policies.

But the issue has already created deep structural problems. From an economic perspective, a September 2018 study by ReadyNation and Council for a Strong America estimated that annually, the 11 million working parents in the United States lose a total of $37 billion in earnings because they lack adequate childcare. Businesses in turn lose a total of $13 billion a year as a result, while the impact on lower income and sales tax reduces tax revenues by $7 billion. Many parents change their career trajectories after they have children, even if they did not plan to. For example, a study published earlier this year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that 43% of women and 23% of men in STEM change fields, switch to part-time work or leave the workforce.

Source: TechCrunch