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Santa Clara County to launch program for caregivers looking to go back to work – The Mercury News


Santa Clara County is on the path to launch a program later this year to aid caregivers looking to return to the workforce. But the genesis for the idea has been simmering in Board President Susan Ellenberg’s mind now for decades.

The Caregiver Returnship Program, which county supervisors approved in 2022, aims to tackle an issue that was exacerbated by the pandemic as individuals left the workforce to care for children or other family members. But for those looking to return to work, gaps on a resume pose difficulties in finding employment again.

Data shows that women in particular have been disproportionately impacted as the often leave the workforce to care for their children. A recent report from the U.S. Department of Labor found that in 2023, the labor force participation rate of mothers with children under the age of 18 was 74%, compared to a 94.4% similar rate for fathers.

It’s an issue that Ellenberg, who proposed the initiative, experienced firsthand as a soon-to-be mother in the mid ’90s. At the time, she had only been working as an attorney for three years. When she let her boss know she was pregnant, she was told it would be a “disaster” for her career.

“It left me in a real terrified state of how I would ever go back,” Ellenberg said. “With the law, I think the longer you’re away, the harder it is to come back. By the time I was looking more than 10 years later, my knowledge of the law had stopped in 1994 and I had to look for other opportunities.”

Applications for the program open this week, and the county hopes to place a cohort of 10 individuals into nine-month temporary roles starting this fall.

“Resume gaps can often work against people and caregiving is a noble alternative to being in the paid work force,” said Cassandra Staff, a program manager with the county’s Office of Women’s Policy. “We want to acknowledge that and be very intentional about bringing folks into county positions who have taken that time to provide for their loved ones.”

Staff said the program is modeled after a similar one designed to provide employment opportunities to former foster kids and will offer entry, mid-level and senior positions. After the nine months is up, Staff said the individual can be recommended for a permanent role.

The county is still in the midst of nailing down what positions will be open for the program as it works through its current budget and will be working with the Health and Hospitals Department, the County Executive’s Office, the Social Services Agency and the Technology Services and Solutions Department, Staff said.

Ellenberg called the program “a classic triple win” for a county looking to fill its job vacancies and individuals looking to return to the workforce and their families.

“We’re offering a tremendous opportunities to come back into the workforce, to build skills, to get updates in your particular area of expertise and whether you stay on the county or go somewhere else you’ve got a new solid element on your resume to talk about,” Ellenberg said.

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