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As people start coming off furlough and more businesses open tentatively, childcare is going to become an increasing issue.
The last few days have seen an upsurge in requests for childcare advice from parents who are being told by their employer that they are preparing to take them off furlough and that they will have to return to work outside the home.
These are not key workers so there is no childcare available to them. Nurseries and childminders are only open for key workers’ and vulnerable children.
This is an issue which is likely to increase over the next weeks and shows how closely childcare provision will be linked to the move out of lockdown. Just what are parents supposed to do if they can’t access any childcare and their employer is averse to putting them on furlough [we have heard of several cases where employers are either confused about the furlough scheme and think it doesn’t apply if they are still open or just don’t want to apply for it].
Furlough can be used for employees who cannot work because of a lack of childcare. The government guidance specifies that this also applies to parents who work from home. All furlough requests have to be put through employers and there appears to be nothing much a parent can do if their employer says no as this is an unprecedented situation. There will no doubt be a raft of legal cases in due course if parents lose their jobs because of a lack of childcare where childcare is just unavailable.
There are additional complex issues involved. For instance, some parents do not want to send their children to the available childcare because they are worried about risk since key workers’ children are likely to be in closer contact with the coronavirus. The children may also have underlying health issues or live in a household with people with underlying health issues. Moreover, some parents of very young children say they cannot afford the available childcare and for that reason had been using grandparents in the past.
These are just some of the issues that face us as we emerge from lockdown. Parents of younger children will be hardest hit, but not exclusively. Some parents have contacted us about teenagers with mental health issues or worries that if they are not at home overseeing school work nothing will get done and the teenager will fall behind, something that is of particular concern for teens coming up to big exams.
We’ve heard from parents who don’t want to continue to work from home and those who cannot see any other way to manage but to work from home. Everyone has different pressures and no amount of guidance is going to cover every eventuality, but what is clear is that if parents are expected to go out to work, they will need childcare support that they can trust.
I have no idea how schools or nurseries will do this. Even if you can get primary school children into classes and keep them apart all day, how on Earth do you get them in and out of the building and to their parents while social distancing? The bigger the school the larger the problem. A primary school teacher I was talking to recently said they have around 14 kids in her school now and social distancing is impossible. Are we going to spend much of the next year in queues and/or some sort of pick-up shift pattern? Who knows, but it looks like some form of the stressful homeschool/homework combination is likely to be here to stay for a while with, hopefully, extra childcare support being provided to households with parents who can’t work from home.