Originally published on Mom.com
My name is Helen Mayer and we are launching Otter in Santa Clarita, the Greater LA Area, and San Francisco to match families who need childcare with stay-at-home parents who get paid to take care of kids in their community. Our company has already put over 20 million dollars into the hands of stay-at-home parents.
My journey started at the beginning of the pandemic, when I became a stay-at-home parent by default alongside 3 million other women. A few weeks later, I was offered a job I was excited about only to have to turn it down because I couldn’t find safe, reliable, and affordable childcare and my family couldn’t make things work with two working parents working 80+ hours/week.
If my story sounds familiar, that’s because 50% of all Americans live in communities dubbed “childcare deserts,” where there are three children in need of care for every daycare spot. While COVID certainly made things worse, I quickly realized this wasn’t just a pandemic specific problem. I still remember the day I learned that the U.S. hadn’t invested in childcare since WWII. I remember feeling enraged and sad, thinking of the women who were suffering through the results of these policies.
This anger fueled me to reach out to other parents who were running into the same problems to help them navigate childcare. In August 2020, I started matching families in need of childcare with stay-at-home parents who would get paid to care for their neighbors’ kids. In a survey I put out, parents seeking care said that the most trustworthy childcare provider was a parent down the street. Through conversations with parents, I became convinced that Otter’s model of matching stay-at-home parents with parents who need childcare could be transformative.
I found solace in helping families who needed care find trustworthy community members and I was struck by how life-changing this economic opportunity could be for stay-at-home parents. In November 2020, I was reaching out to caregivers to say “Happy Thanksgiving.” This prompted one of them to share a story with me that to this day I cannot recall without tears. She told me that before she had signed on to become an Otter Caregiver she didn’t know how she was going to put dinner on the table at the end of the month. But that day, she was baking pies for her neighborhood for the holiday. Not only was she able to make a great meal for her own home for Thanksgiving, but she was also able to feed her neighbors. She took care of herself and was able to take care of the community, which in a nutshell is the ultimate goal of Otter itself.
With childcare needs pushing families to their breaking point, the fastest and safest way to get children care is to match them with a vetted parent down the street. We’ve always said that it takes a village to raise a child and this is how we can meet busy families where they are to make that a reality. I hope that as Otter grows larger and we’re able to bring the service nationally, we usher in a world of care and opportunity.