There has long been a shortage of accessible and affordable childcare centers in the U.S. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the shortage has only gotten worse with 16,000 childcare centers being forced to close their doors, and many providers having to operate at limited capacity.
This has left working parents without the support system they need to be able to go to work every day—and is a contributing factor of the nation’s worsening worker shortage crisis.
According to a recent Pew Research study, parents are still having a hard time finding childcare. Among working parents with children under age six who rely on childcare providers, more than 80% say they would have difficulties finding backup childcare in the event their usual provider was not an option.
But one small business in San Diego, California, is reinventing finding childcare by tapping into the digital services economy and connecting parents with providers in real-time.
TOOTRiS, founded in 2019, acts as a kind of Uber for childcare. Parents can log in to the TOOTRiS website; search by their geographic area, budget, and other filters; and then are matched instantly with quality, affordable childcare locations even for temporary spots or drop-ins.
The platform is accessible to parents on a desktop, tablet, or mobile app to provide the kind of on-the-go and last-minute convenience working parents need.
TOOTRiS CEO and Founder Alessandra Lezama joined the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation in 2021 to discuss childcare resources for professionals and emphasized how important childcare is to the growth of the broader economy and economic development.
And TOOTRiS isn’t just helping working parents. The company also promotes entrepreneurial opportunities for individuals to become childcare providers, helping increase the much-needed supply of childcare nationwide. TOOTRiS provides access to free tools and resources, such as automated payment systems, that new providers can use to grow their programs and boost enrollments.
“In 2020, TOOTRiS supported less than 100 childcare providers in San Diego. Today, TOOTRiS provides invaluable and 100% free resources to more than 122,000 childcare providers in 22 states connecting working parents to these programs in real-time,” Lezama told the U.S. Chamber in 2021.
Employers are jumping to partner with TOOTRiS, too.
Through TOOTRiS’ employer platform, companies can provide fully managed childcare benefits to their workforce, regaining employee productivity and increasing their ROI. TOOTRiS has partnered recently with restaurants, manufacturing facilities, tech companies, and more, to help workers across the nation—and across industries—access childcare.
In March 2022, Mazda Toyota Manufacturing (MTM) in Huntsville, Alabama, announced a partnership with TOOTRiS to provide childcare assistance to employees and contribute towards the cost of care.
MTM currently employs 3,000 team members and plans to hire up to another 1,000 team members in 2022 to help the facility increase its capacity to assemble up to 300,000 vehicles annually.
TOOTRiS also recently partnered with Urban Plates, a California fast-casual restaurant chain, and Maravai Life Sciences, a biotech company in San Diego.
“Access to affordable and quality Child Care—when they need it—is one of the biggest challenges that our working parents face,” said Kristine Figueroa, vice president of Human Resources at Maravai LifeSciences.
Maravai provides critical products that enable the development of drug therapies, diagnostics, and vaccines. The company joined with TOOTRiS to offer its employees access to more childcare options, and as an effort to foster greater gender diversity in biotech.
At Urban Plates, childcare can be a constant struggle, especially for parents working the flexible day, night, and weekend schedules common in the restaurant industry. Now, each of Urban Plates’ more than 650 employees across California can find and connect with childcare providers.
TOOTRiS recently expanded, now covering all 50 states, and has more than 180,000 providers on its platform, creating the largest network of available, licensed real-time childcare options in the nation.
TOOTRiS was recently recognized by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as the winner of the Dream Big Minority-Owned Business Achievement Award in 2021. The annual Dream Big Awards celebrate the achievements of small businesses and highlight their contributions to America’s economic growth.
Story by Lindsay Cates, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
Lindsay is a manager on the communications and strategy team. She previously worked as a writer and editor at U.S. News and World Report.