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Catherine Breakwell thought she’d never have a management-level job after her son was born with Down’s Syndrome and autism, but she found an organisation whose flexible, virtual model suits her needs perfectly.
When she had her son who has Down’s Syndrome and autism, Catherine Breakwell thought she would never be able to work again. The one to one demands of caring for her son, plus her two daughters, made the kind of job she did before seem impossible.
Catherine was a customer services manager for the eastern region of South West Water with 20 employees in her team. She went on maternity leave 12 years ago when her daughter was born and was planning to go back a year later when her son was born, but he was very poorly.
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She took six years out to look after her family, including another daughter who is aged eight and took on an administrative role in a small charity in Dorchester for children who wanted to do gymnastics, including children with disabilities.
However, three years ago she got a job at Cool2Care, a company which employers 45 staff who organise care for parents of disabled children. It operates a virtual business model with staff working from home and regularly keeping in touch through IT systems which allow conference calls, Skype and instant messaging. It’s a flexible work model which helped it scoop the recent Workingmums.co.uk TopEmployer Award for larger SMEs.
Catherine started as a family liaison officer on a contract in Dorset. She was promoted last March to regional head, South West and Midlands. The beauty of Cool2Care’s virtual model means that, although she travels to Gloucester and the West Midlands regularly, she does a lot of her work remotely from Dorset.
Her son is now in a residential school and comes back home in the school holidays, although his school doesn’t always share the same holidays as her daughters’ schools and he can’t attend the same holiday clubs as her daughters as he needs one to one support. When her son is around Cool2Care’s flexible working policy comes into its own. Catherine works full time [37 hours a week] and she can take her son to medical appointments and make up the time later. She can also work while he is at home because she says he is very self sufficient and likes to be on his own, due to his autism.
“The flexibility of Cool2Care is a godsend. It works so well for our clients too as we don’t just sell them personal assistants. Many people who work for Cool2Care are parents of children with disabilities and are living the same kind of things as our clients. I can regularly talk about the parents’ perspective and what would help,” says Catherine.
When it’s term time, Catherine does the school run, works till 3pm or until after-school club finishes and then when they are in bed does another one and a half hours. In the holidays she clocks off earlier in the day and then takes the kids out and does more work in the evenings or uses holiday clubs. If she has to take her son to an appointment she always has her mobile with her. “It works very well on a trust basis,” she says, “and the business would know if someone wasn’t working.”
She adds: “I do not think I could do any other kind of job due to my circumstances. Working for Cool2Care means I have really been able to get back to doing the kind of management role I was doing before I had children, develop my skills further and still have time for my children. It has really given me confidence.”
She adds: “I felt a bit like a nurse before and never thought I could get back into a working environment. I have tried so many new things at Cool2Care and there’s a new challenge every day. You are never standing still so it is very refreshing.”