Isaac Yu, Contributing Photographer

As children and parents return to school and work, many of Yale’s working parents say coordinating child care remains a tall task, and have called on the University to provide additional resources.

On Oct. 29, University Provost Scott Strobel wrote an email to faculty and staff outlining a number of spending priorities for Yale, including new commitments for working parents. Strobel said he will announce details “in the coming weeks” about an enhanced parental leave policy as well as extending the University’s child care stipend to additional groups including eligible staff, faculty and postdoctoral associates. Several parents welcomed the changes, including a  researcher who noted that postdoctoral candidates had not received childcare support from the University prior to the pandemic, leaving many to spend more than their monthly income on living costs. Several female faculty and staff also emphasized that childcare difficulties disproportionately affect working women.

“Child care remains a big issue,” said Shiri Goren, director of the Modern Hebrew Program in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations. “Even now when our children are officially back in school, there are so many unique challenges we have to work through.”

Several parents noted that children under 12 remained ineligible for COVID-19 vaccines until three days ago — making schools and daycares, some of which remain shuttered, less safe. “Creative” solutions that worked before the pandemic, such as bringing children to offices, are no longer allowed, Goren said. 

In June 2020, the University began offering child care benefits to postdoctoral researchers and affiliates and expanded its child care benefits to faculty and staff. The back-up care program granted emergency child care services at Bright Horizons Child Care Center for a set number of days, allotted over periods that often spanned six months. The Crisis Care Assist option also reimbursed working parents who hired babysitters through personal networks. The program was extended and enhanced with extra days several times as the pandemic wore on.

“While the pandemic has been incredibly challenging to so many, it has been especially challenging for those caring for young children or those providing eldercare,” University spokesperson Karen Peart wrote in an email to the News. Peart did not directly respond to questions about further details from the Provost’s announcement, but pointed to the University’s previous child care benefits expansions. 

Several parents told the News they were appreciative of the expanded benefits. Stacey Bonet, a senior administrative assistant at the Yale School of Public Health who co-chairs the Working Women’s Network, said she took full advantage of her allotted days. 

When she spoke to the News a year ago, Bonet was juggling a mix of housework, a remote job and her children’s online school. Today, she is back in her office at the School of Public Health. Her children, Tito and Lola, have returned to school. Home life has vastly improved since last year, but remains a struggle, Bonet said.

“I’m no longer at home trying to do my full-time job while simultaneously putting my children on Zoom classes, excusing myself from meetings to set them up,” Bonet said. “But I feel like coming back to work, that not everybody has that perspective that this is not as easy as it was before the pandemic.”

Her kids have aged out of daycare, Bonet said, so she is forced to rely on a number of relatives to pick her children up from school — especially given that aftercare programs remain scarce, and Bonet fears that those that are available could increase her children’s COVID-19 exposure. Last Friday, Bonet said no relatives were available to watch her children, so a relative had to drop them off at her workplace for a few hours.

Strobel’s newest announcements appear to respond to some concerns outlined by the Yale Childcare Consultative Committee, a coalition of organizations including the Faculty of Arts & Sciences Senate, the Yale Postdoctoral Association, Local 34 and the Women Faculty Forum. YCCC authored a report in December 2020 calling on the University to implement comprehensive measures to support working parents, including further expansions of Crisis Care and increasing the availability of affordable child care on campus. It also noted that working women bear disproportionate burdens in child care.

The pandemic has brought to light just how dire the needs are,” professor of physics and Women Faculty Forum co-chair Reina Mayurama wrote in an email to the News. “The U.S. workforce – and Yale is no exception – has depended on the unpaid and unseen work of parents and working mothers bore the brunt of homeschooling while working during COVID-19.”

Mayurama cited additional research released by the U.S. Census Bureau about the particular burdens of working mothers. 

Among the report’s other recommendations were expanded sick day policies, additional paid research leave for junior faculty and increased accomodations in the tenure process for pandemic-related interruptions to research.

The University’s pandemic-era benefits were a first for postdoctoral affiliates, who have historically not received the child care stipends made available to faculty, some staff and graduate students, according to Krishna Mudumbi, a postdoctoral researcher at the Yale Cancer Biology Institute. 

The pandemic prompted Mudumbi, who used to lead the Yale Postdoctoral Association’s advocacy committee, to survey other postdoctoral associates about parenting concerns. He found that securing and affording child care consumed a significant portion of researchers’ income, with some losing savings each month to cover household costs. The problem was exacerbated by limited spots at local daycare centers and by the many hours researchers tend to spend in the lab. 

Mudumbi said he is “heartened” by Strobel’s most recent email, which included postdoctoral affiliates in its child care commitments. 

“The largest concerns, in terms of affordability, accessibility; those still haven’t been addressed,” Mudumbi said. “I look forward to reading the policies and I hope this will be an open dialogue between the administration and postdocs so that a policy is crafted that can provide the most flexible coverage for as many postdoc parents as possible.”

More specific details about Strobel’s commitments have not yet been announced, leaving some lingering questions as to who will be eligible for new child care benefits and whether the benefits will address the YCCC’s recommendations. 

Still, Bonet said that the University appears to be “more willing to listen” than before, according to her discussions with other child care advocates. 

“Eventually, once my kids are vaccinated, I will be happy to send them someplace, because they’ll know they’re protected,” Bonet said. “But I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I sent my children someplace for the convenience of the workday, and they ended up catching something that’s going to impact them for the rest of their lives.”

The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine was approved by the FDA for children aged five to 11 on Oct. 29.

Correction, Nov. 4: A previous version of this article stated that the back-up care program provided services at Yale-affiliated centers. It has been updated to state that these services were provided at Bright Horizons Child Care Center.

ISAAC YU
Isaac Yu writes about Yale's faculty and academics. He is a production and design editor, leads the News' social media team and previously covered transportation and urban planning in New Haven. Hailing from Garland, Texas, he is a Berkeley College sophomore majoring in American Studies.