The Future of Technology in Child Care
Imagine you’re at work, and you get an alert on your phone from your three-year-old’s child care provider. It’s not anything to worry about; in fact, the message brightens your otherwise tedious day: It’s a short video clip of your child holding up a picture she has drawn for you as she eagerly explains what it is.
The message accompanying the video makes you break into a warm smile: “Emma is having such a good day! Lots of terrific things to report.”
Setting aside your work for a minute, you open up the app for your child care center, and you see what your child care provider was referring to. Your child has recited all of the numbers from one to 10, comforted a friend who was upset because he’d scraped his knee, and built a castle out of blocks—all before lunch.
Encouraged by the knowledge that your child is doing well, you return to the task at hand with a little bit of extra focus and energy.
This kind of scenario is playing out in several communities nationwide, as technology helps to make child care more personalized, convenient, and responsive to busy parents’ needs.
Today’s smartphone apps and other technologies are empowering consumers in ways that were never possible before. The market research firm Forrester calls this the “age of the customer,” in which consumers expect more from every interaction they have with service providers throughout their day.
This trend is changing the way many service industries operate, including child care—where a growing number of parents now have the ability to interact, stay informed, and complete transactions with their child care center easily and securely from a mobile device.
With instant communication apps, for instance, parents no longer have to wait until the end of the day to get updates, photos, and videos showing activities and important milestones in their child’s development. Child care providers can use their phone or another mobile device to capture photos and observations, make notes about each child’s progress, and send quick updates and messages to parents. And parents can view a summary of their child’s cognitive, social, and emotional learning and receive real-time notifications throughout the day—adding a more personal touch to their experience with their child care provider.
More frequent communication and deeper insight into their child’s day-to-day activities and development are two of the key benefits that technology affords to parents—but these aren’t the only ways that technology is transforming child care. Here are three others.
With security a top priority for parents, technology is helping to calm their fears by making child care centers more secure from unauthorized visitors.
One common means of security is a keypad system in which parents can enter a numeric code or use their fingerprint to gain access. But an alternative that is becoming increasingly popular is a system that allows secure entry into a child care facility through a simple barcode scan, like airline travelers now use to board their flight.
Aside from being less susceptible to transmitting germs during cold and flu season, this method can easily accommodate trusted friends or family members if someone’s drop-off or pickup plans should suddenly change. With a barcode scanner, parents can add another person who is authorized to pick up their child on the fly, and a secure barcode is sent to that person’s phone or other mobile device automatically.
Working parents’ lives are already hectic enough as it is—and they don’t have a lot of extra time to spend registering their child, filling out paperwork, scheduling child care hours, sharing medical information, adding new people to the list of those who are authorized to drop off or pick up their child, and dealing with other administrative hassles.
An app or self-service portal allows parents to take care of these functions in a matter of seconds, from wherever they are, instead of having to visit their child care center in person to fill out forms or drop off new information.
Child care can be a significant expense, especially for young families—and having some control over when the payments are due or how they can be paid can help ease this financial burden.
Technology can give parents some measure of control by allowing them to make child care payments automatically by credit card or through monthly deductions from their checking account, at a time of the month that is most convenient for them.
For parents who don’t own a smart phone or other digital device, but who want the convenience of paying electronically or accessing online reports about their child’s progress, easy-to-use kiosks allow them to go online and perform all of these functions when they drop off or pick up their child.
Parents aren’t the only ones who benefit from these developments. Child care providers also benefit from technologies that make these processes easier.
For instance, as parents fill out a self-service schedule for child care service, this schedule can link directly to the child care center’s management system, so providers can manage their employees’ hours more effectively and ensure compliance with applicable child care laws. Electronic payments can link directly to this software as well, so providers have real-time insights into the financial health of their child care center.
As technology continues to evolve, and as parents’ expectations change along with these advancements, child care centers will continue to innovate to give parents what they want, when, where, and how they want it. As a result, parents will feel more connected to their child’s development, even if they can’t be with their child physically throughout the day—and child care providers will be able to spend less time on cumbersome management tasks and more time on actual care.
Matt Knapp is the CEO of Smartcare, a leading provider of child care management software that covers all aspects of care.