Caregiving and the Future

Topics: Early Childhood, Future of Learning

During Grantmakers for Education’s (GFE’s) annual conference, KnowledgeWorks and Capita co-facilitated session about caregiving and the future. The session took the form of a game, The Care Game, designed to help participants consider a range of possibilities from the vantage point of different groups’ experiences in a system, explore the space of uncertainty and provoke thought and insight about systems of care.

Players assumed personas to explore three scenarios for the future of caregiving. The scenarios differed in who won the 2020 US Presidential election, how decisive that victory was, what the states of the COVID-19 pandemic and the global economy were, and what kind of funding climate for caregiving existed. Highlights of the scenarios appear below.

  • Philanthropic Coverage: With no prospects of comprehensive economic relief for the childcare industry, philanthropies and non-profit organizations could rush to figure out a plan to prop up childcare businesses and rebuild the industry following the closure of over half of childcare centers.
  • New Federal Investment: With the prospect of a $770 billion federal investment in caregiving, a high-level group of experts, parents and legislators could make proposals for how to spend $385 billion on caring for young children; and advocates could scramble to influence these proposals.
  • Spotty Support: With power contested and the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to rage in the U.S. even as the global situation improved, U.S. philanthropies could find themselves leading a childcare-sector relief effort, requiring them to shift resources from other issues and geographic areas.

How might stakeholders reexamine the role of caregiving in society, setting up systems, structures and narratives that reflect the true value of caregiving? What does it mean to put care at the core?
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Each of these scenarios would present a range of opportunities and challenges, and those could vary by stakeholder group. Engaging with the scenarios helped players surface a range of strategic insights that can be managed and mitigated today.

As they did so, players inhabited two personas: childcare center directors responsible for supervising staffs, designing program plans, managing daily activities and preparing budgets; and early childhood innovators directing innovation in the private sector that creates solutions for young children and their families. Stepping into their shoes helped the players make their exploration of the future more vivid and more varied than it would have been have had they looked only through their own day-to-day lenses.

Top opportunities and challenges that they identified were:

  • Put racial justice at the center of efforts to shape the future of caregiving
  • Identify multigenerational solutions
  • Invest in more resilient caregiving structures and approaches
  • Co-create working arrangements alongside childcare options
  • Unpack what kindergarten readiness means
  • Develop more privatized childcare models that can take advantage of new sources of funding.

Encouragingly, players observed that there is currently considerable investment in caregiving. Parent networks have been building the power of their voices as families struggle to find workable childcare and elder care solutions. There has also been renewed interest in innovating to support the childcare workforce.

Discouragingly, a significant number of women have dropped out of the workforce, in part to provide caregiving when solutions compatible with their jobs were not available and when the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the fragile work-caregiving balance.

Players also noted that worker cooperatives are emerging as one way of building assets that can help close racialized wealth gaps, especially as small childcare center operators buffeted by the COVID-19 pandemic step out of the industry and hand over centers to their workers. Tax advantages, along with financing from philanthropy and local community institutions, can help facilitate this kind of restructuring of childcare approaches and business models.

Lastly, players discussed how, if we do end up in a scenario such as “New Federal Investment” where there is a lot of money available to invest in caregiving, taking an ecosystemic approach could help prevent a competitive scramble for a piece of the pie. Instead of thinking of the situation as a zero-sum game, taking a win-win approach could help stakeholders stay focused on the bigger picture. When caregiving solutions of many shapes and sizes are robust, our social infrastructure and economy are stronger. And we will be better equipped to meet the needs of the many children who are growing up amid crisis.

Thinking deeply about a range of possibilities that could emerge from the unknowable future can help us make better decisions today – in this case, about how best to help young children and families flourish. With the spotlight on the often-overlooked importance of caregiving to many aspects of society and to children’s and families’ well-being, now is a great time to think creatively about what caregiving could look like and how to shape it to support both the people using it and the people working in the sector.

When we talk about the future, we talk about children. Foundations for Flourishing Futures: A Look Ahead for Children and Families© will help leaders across sectors navigate that gap, understand their own work in new ways and do their part to ensure that every child and family can flourish in the future.