Why Child Care and Elder Care Are So Different

By Leah Dobkin

Apr. 10, 2007

Elder care has begun to rival child care as a workplace issue, but there are important differences between the two. While some employees have children, others don’t. But most employees have living parents, and so elder care has the potential to affect more employees than child care does. Unlike child care, elder care is an unpredictable, variable event that can occur suddenly during a loved one’s health crisis, or creep up slowly as a relative’s health and functioning decline. It requires flexibility and responsiveness from both the employer and employee caregivers as well as supervisors and co-workers.

   Child care focuses primarily on healthy children who live with the employee, but elder care involves a variety of services to respond complex financial, housing, health and legal issues that often need to be delivered at a distance from the employee. The relationship between caregiver and the person being cared for is adult to adult, long term and often involves an emotionally potent and uncomfortable role reversal. Unlike child care, elder care does not necessarily have a positive outcome. The care receiver becomes more and more dependent, and the process involves a number of siblings and other relatives and friends in ways that child care usually does not.

   While child care and elder care have their differences, more and more employers are realizing that they need a holistic approach to human resource offerings involving all of an employee’s life stages and all generations at work.

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