Access to high-quality, affordable childcare and early childhood education are among the most pressing issues affecting families across the country, the commonwealth, and the New River Valley.

Rising costs, mounting waitlists at childcare and early childhood education facilities, and difficulties recruiting and retaining talent are among the many impacts of the national childcare crunch.

Now, COVID-19 compounds the issue by blurring the boundaries between home and work for families as they face varied childcare and school system schedules and financial demands.

When it comes to childcare challenges, the Virginia Tech community isn’t immune either. That’s why the university remains committed to engaging in strategies that help support its employees and students with their childcare and early childhood education needs.

“Our greatest opportunities to meet the childcare needs of the Virginia Tech community lie at the intersection of policy, partnership, and two-way communication,” said Dwayne Pinkney, senior vice president and chief business officer. “Strong input from faculty, staff, and graduate student governing bodies remains integral to these efforts. We will continue to evaluate our human resources and childcare policies to ensure they help promote the work-life needs of all employees and foster a supportive working and learning environment for all. We will also continue to engage in local and regional partnerships that are working to address childcare needs in Blacksburg and across the New River Valley.”

As the university begins shifting to an increased on-campus presence this fall, Virginia Tech Human Resources provides leaders with guidance and employees with leave options and other resources to help ease childcare concerns during the current COVID-19 crisis.

“We face challenges every day that put work and home at odds with each other,” said Bryan Garey, vice president for human resources. “Childcare continues to be an issue and we will continue to work to expand options for faculty and staff. In the meantime, with creativity, empathy, and two-way conversations between leaders and employees, we can help employees find the flexibility and balance they need during this challenging time.”

Alternative work options and finding balance

Telework and flexible or alternative scheduling are ways to alleviate some of the concerns around childcare. During COVID-19, university leaders are encouraging flexibility with regard to childcare as well as eldercare for employees who telework, relaxing the university policy that generally discourages telework while simultaneously serving as a caregiver.

Recognizing that some work can be done only on-site, university leaders also support the use of appropriate flexible scheduling and alternative work options for employees where remote work or telework is not an option.

“It all starts with a dialogue between a manager and an employee,” said Garey. “Communication is vital, now more than ever, and the university takes seriously its responsibility to help employees when they are feeling stressed or overwhelmed. Flexible scheduling options are available for an employee and supervisor to discuss and arrive at an agreement that meets the needs of the team and the employee.”

Families First Coronavirus Relief Act

While using leave isn’t a permanent solution to childcare issues, employees have expanded options available during COVID-19 that can help.

The Families First Coronavirus Relief Act (FFCRA), which is a federal act of Congress in response to the economic impacts of the ongoing pandemic, is available through Dec. 31, 2020. Both parts of the FFCRA – Federal Emergency Paid Sick Leave (FESL) and Expanded Federal Family and Medical Leave (FFML) – provide help for employees with regard to childcare.

Combined, FESL and FFML provide employees up to 80 hours of paid leave and up to 12 weeks (480 hours) of job-protected absence from work during a 12-month period at two-thirds of their regular pay* when caring for a child or children whose school or place of care is closed or if a childcare provider is unavailable due to COVID-19. An employee can use existing leave to bring their salary to 100 percent and the leave can be taken consecutively or intermittently in full or half-days. This leave usage does count toward total FMLA usage and not all positions are eligible to take the leave. 

* NOTE: Both FESL and FFML provide for employees to be paid at two-thirds of their regular pay, up to $200 per day and $10,000 in aggregate. Employees are encouraged to discuss FFCRA options with the Human Resources Leave Team. Contact the Leave Team at

Childcare advocacy and resources

Virginia Tech has long been an advocate for bolstering affordable access to childcare and early childhood education for its employees and students — and for the New River Valley at large. Driven by a university-wide commitment and led by a network of dedicated university stakeholders, Virginia Tech continues to make progress in accomplishing this goal.

“Virginia Tech has been instrumental in developing a community approach to address childcare needs, including availability, affordability, quality, and workforce development in the New River Valley,” said Jack Finney, vice provost for faculty affairs.  “Our partnerships with New River Community College, the towns of Blacksburg and Christiansburg, Montgomery County Public Schools, the Community Foundation for the New River Valley, Carilion Clinic, the National Bank of Blacksburg, and others resulted in the Alliance for Better Childcare Strategies and made progress in all targeted areas. We now need to focus on similar issues in Roanoke and the Greater Washington area to serve Virginia Tech’s employees beyond the NRV.”

The Alliance for Better Childcare Strategies (ABCs), a private 501(c)3 corporation that was directed by Bethany Mott, created connections between government agencies, early childhood education centers, and quality organizations, such as Virginia Quality. ABCs sponsored a fall professional development workshop for the past three years, which had substantial participation from the early childhood education specialists in the area. ABCs is currently inactive, but similar work will continue through Virginia Tech’s Childcare Working Group.  

“The exceptional need for high-quality, affordable childcare can be felt across corners of the Virginia Tech community – and the region at large,” said Lisa Wilkes, vice president for business affairs. “As one of the largest employers in the area, Virginia Tech is dedicated to being a leader and problem solver on the issue. The Virginia Tech Childcare Working Group leading this charge will continue to partner with university and regional stakeholders to implement a range of programmatic and policy solutions. We know there is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to childcare, so we will strive to be flexible, accommodating, and communicative in all of our efforts.”

Wilkes co-leads the Virginia Tech Childcare Working Group alongside Finney. Both Wilkes and Finney have been highly engaged in advancing Virginia Tech’s childcare efforts throughout their careers at the university.

Below are just some of the examples of the university partnerships and efforts underway to advance access to high quality, affordable childcare and early childhood education in the region.

Virginia Tech understands each of the outstanding initiatives below — and the university stakeholders catalyzing them — are worthy of their own feature. This is also not an exhaustive list. Please stay tuned for more childcare-focused stories and notices in the VT Daily News in the coming weeks and months.

Virginia Tech childcare initiatives and regional partnerships:

Since nearly 1940, Virginia Tech’s Child Development Center for Learning and Research (CDCLR) within the Department of Human Development and Family Science in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences has played an integral role in shaping the university’s childhood education narrative. Nationally accredited, the CDCLR provides a model preschool program for children and their families rooted in child development theory, research, and developmentally appropriate practice. All children of Virginia Tech employees qualify to attend the CDCLR.

The CDCLR also provided professional education in child development and early childhood education for Virginia Tech undergraduate and graduate students. Guided by their expertise and unmatched experience gained at the CDCLR, former students and employees continue to impart lasting positive change in the childcare and early childhood education fields across Southwest Virginia and farther beyond in Virginia.

Hokie Wellness, a team that serves the entire university population, offers childcare resources where employees can:

  • Search databases for local and regional childcare options.
  • Find part-time help through their student list.
  • Tap into such services as the Employee Assistance Program, a free resource for employees enrolled in a health care plan that provides a wide variety of services to help with work/life balance.

Virginia Tech continues to partner with KinderCare to expand high-quality childcare offerings in the New River Valley. Recently, Virginia Tech worked closely with KinderCare to inform their expansion in Blacksburg with a new KinderCare facility on South Main Street.

Since 2008, Virginia Tech has collaborated with the nationally accredited Rainbow Riders Childcare Center to offer employees enhanced access to high-quality childcare in Blacksburg. Rainbow Riders currently has three childcare facilities in Blacksburg. Partnership accomplishments include:

For more than six years, the Graduate School has strived to increase childcare support for the growing population of graduate students with families. Some of the Graduate School’s childcare initiatives include:

Since 1994, the Women’s Center at Virginia Tech has promoted a community that is safe, equitable, and supportive for women and that celebrates their experiences, achievements, and diversity. Some of the Women’s Center’s childcare-related initiatives include:

University childcare initiatives with employee engagement opportunities:

Formed in 2019, the Virginia Tech Childcare Working Group was charged with developing a comprehensive strategy to adequately meet the childcare needs of faculty, staff, and students. The group’s work is grounded in the principles of quality, affordability, availability, and flexibility and their strategy is guided by the following: 

  • Childcare for the university community, including faculty, staff, undergraduate students, graduate students, and professional students, is considered.
  • Continued commitment to fostering a regional approach to childcare, with a priority focus on the needs of Virginia Tech.
  • Implementation of a broad, multipronged approach, ensuring multiple options are evaluated and a variety of options are recommended. No single approach will address all childcare needs.
  • Understanding the market supply and demand, current partnerships, future opportunities, and projected needs of the university.
  • Best practices should be considered.
  • Acknowledgement of past and current financial commitments.
  • Reaffirmation that delivery of childcare is not at Virginia Tech’s core mission.
  • Reaffirmation that a regional childcare strategy is central to the recruitment and retention of faculty, staff, and students, and integral to bolstering the early educator talent pipeline.

The group continues to explore short- and long-term strategies that include enhancing community partnerships; establishing back-up care options for employees; hiring a childcare initiative coordinator wholly dedicated to these efforts; expansion of CDCLR capacity; increasing philanthropy toward childcare initiatives; building educational and outreach programs that increase awareness of child care options; and increasing child care stipends for low income families.  

Ongoing engagement from both the Faculty and Staff senates at Virginia Tech has provided valuable insights and feedback from both T&R faculty and staff. Leveraging feedback from ongoing forums and surveys, the senates continue to represent the needs of employees and share the insights they collect with the university’s leaders and Board of Visitors to help inform decision making around childcare.

One example of their representative efforts, as well as other campus groups, was the implementation of a $500 supplement paid in January to employees making an annual salary of $35,500 or less. This taxable supplement, implemented in March 2019 and paid out for the first time in January 2020, can be used to offset such expenses as childcare.

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