Reexamining the Role of Caregiving in Society

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Topics: Early Childhood

“How might stakeholders reexamine the role of caregiving in society, setting up systems, structures and narratives that reflect the true value of caregiving?” KnowledgeWorks and Capita’s forecast, Foundations for Flourishing Futures: A Look Ahead for Young Children and Families asked this question and others in exploring tensions related to caregiving structures and values.

When we talk about the future, we talk about children. Too often, we do not recognize how the profound social, economic and technological changes underway will reshape their lives and our very understanding of what it means to be a child. 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.
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The forecast’s “Care at the Core” domain examined how new economic and employment realities and the aging of the populations are putting increasing pressure on families. It highlighted how changing work structures will make today’s challenges in accessing and affording family care even more complicated. The erosion of predictable schedules and long-term relationships between employers and employees are causing parents’ needs for child care to diversify. At the same time, the rapid aging of the populations makes it likely that the number of families supporting both older and younger relatives will increase.

With these tensions looming on the ten-year horizon, what fresh perspectives on caregiving might help people resolve or manage them?

Care Co-Op: Learning and working together

Care Co-Op: Learning and Working TogetherOne possibility is that families could come together to create affordable and flexible caregiving solutions. In one artifact of the future – or something that could come to exist based on how trends are unfolding today – the forecast imagined a care co-op governed by member families that would prioritize meeting parents where they were with cost, schedule and caregiving needs. Adults could co-work in the care center building, and some who had the flexibility could care for their and others’ children during parts of the workday.

When we were writing this forecast, I struggled to comprehend how such a flexible working and caregiving arrangement could function. I am so accustomed to having a hard line between working and parenting that it was hard for me to fathom being able to contribute to such a co-op. But what would doing so enable for me as a full-time, traveling single parent and professional as well as for parents in other circumstances? As work and society continue to change, it will be important to push ourselves to see beyond today’s solutions and consider alternatives as real possibilities. Today’s approaches will not suffice to meet tomorrow’s needs.

Measure T: Tech tax for care

Measure T: Tech tax for careAnother possible response to caregiving tensions is that companies that chose to automate the majority of their workforces would be required to contribute to a new fund to cover displaced workers’ basic needs. As the forecast imagined it, the fund would cover food and housing costs, expenses related to the care of children from birth to age five and costs associated with caring for an aging relative. A vote supporting such a tax would likely lead to a scramble to resolve details, along with debates about whether the companies paying the tax or the government would best administer the programs supported by the fund.

The forecast imagined that the election results would be close but that anxieties about technological displacement would be widespread enough to tip public will in the tax’s favor. Today, it can be difficult to consider the implications of increasing automation in a nuanced way. Responses lean toward the utopic (the end of work as we know it, supported by universal basic income) or the dystopic (a coming robot apocalypse that strips people of self-determination). Exploring how societal will around caregiving could shift as we get further into the Fourth Industrial Revolution can help us begin paving the way for solutions that will work well for every child and all families as we see how the possible scenarios that could comprise the future play out.

Day Without a Caregiver: Mass demonstration and lawsuit

A third possible response to emerging issues is that there could be a mass demonstration and lawsuit seeking to coalesce public support for structural solutions to the caregiving tensions that families all too often find themselves managing on their own. If it came to pass that the majority of American were having trouble affording or accessing high-quality care (and we are close to that situation today), grassroots community efforts might demand that the government support children’s health and well-being and parents’ economic participation by adopting a comprehensive approach to caregiving across the United States.

In forecasting this possibility, Foundations for Flourishing Futures: A Look Ahead for Young Children and Families reflected cultural shifts around governance and decision-making that are influencing people’s expectations. It also reflected the growing pressures caused by today’s unsustainable approach to caregiving. Social tensions around caregiving are likely to grow as families face more strain and complexity. This artifact of the futures invites us to consider what it might take to create more supportive and sustainable caregiving solutions and whether arriving at a moment of public crisis will be necessary.

New structures and values for caregiving

We have much to consider regarding the value of caregiving in society, in addition to the contributions it makes to the economy. In a recent webinar hosted by Capita, Elliot Haspel, author of Crawling Behind: America’s Childcare Crisis and How to Fix It, explored his proposition that childcare for the first five years of life should be seen as a public good and should therefore be free. He made the point that, in a fully funded system, many forms of childcare would be possible. He also emphasized that we have “the opportunity to re-envision the system from birth forward.”

Exploring possible futures helps us see past the options that are available today, question assumptions and imagine alternatives. What caregiving systems, structures and narratives might we envision to respond to emerging issues and help every child and all families flourish?

Get more insights into the opportunities that exist for the future of children and their families in Foundations for Flourishing Futures: A Look Ahead for Young Children and Families.