In a recent column, Kevin Silva, head of human resources at Voya Financial, urges corporate America to think about the millions of their employees who are dealing with special needs children.
Roughly 16.8 million Americans care for a special needs child, an obligation that often comes at the expense of their career opportunities. Three-quarters of those who are raising kids with special needs or disabilities say their caregiving obligations have had an impact on their work life, such as reduced hours, passing up on promotions, or quitting altogether.
The parents of children with special needs also face greater financial challenges than most of their co-workers due to the high health care and education costs that often accompany a disability. Roughly half of such parents say the cost of caregiving has reduced their ability to save for retirement or other major expenses, such as education for other children.
Employers can play an important role in helping workers deal with the challenges of special needs parenting, writes Silva, by “assuming the role of ‘resource navigator’ — providing one-stop educational access to resources, support and education networks for caregivers.”
In addition, flexible scheduling is an attractive benefit for most working parents, but it is particularly crucial to the parents of children with disabilities or special needs.
Those are among the efforts that Voya says it is undertaking.
“Do I provide work schedules that are flexible and could potentially accommodate caregiver duties? Am I working to eliminate real biases around performance and productivity for these employees? Do my direct reports know they can feel comfortable opening up about their challenges and responsibilities?”
It’s not just employees who struggle due to the strain that a child with special needs puts on their schedule and budget, he writes. It is employers who lose out if they don’t do what they can to reduce employee stress, thereby enhancing employee productivity.
Generally, the focus on disabilities for employers has been on employees dealing with disabilities, not the family members of employees. The federal Department of Labor released its seventh round of funding in September for the Disability Employment Initiative, which doles out grants to local agencies to connect people with disabilities with jobs.