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Covid has normalised the flexing that many are now doing to get around the lack of holiday childcare, but it is not a long-term solution on its own.
I went on a call the other day with an HR person. She had that haunted look in her eye. “It’s only the start of the holidays,” she said. The last two years of Covid has shown us up close the reality of trying to do work and childcare simultaneously. Of course, in an ideal world, you would have holiday childcare, but we know that out of school childcare has badly impacted by Covid.
Coram Family and Childcare Trust’s recent survey showed that wraparound childcare for working parents – breakfast and after school provision and holiday childcare – as well as childcare for disabled children have been hardest hit by the pandemic and changing working patterns and may take longer to recover. The survey of local authorities in England shows just less than a third have wraparound childcare for primary-aged children [41% have patchy provision] while just 14% have provision for children aged 12 to 14 [with 27% having patchy provision].
Even when there is holiday childcare, though, it usually involves schemes that end at 3pm. Where I live there used to be lots of holiday activities, such as gymnastics or musical theatre. However, they are usually age-based so if you have children of different ages, it is not really a great help. You might spend half the day dropping and picking up different aged children from different clubs, if you could afford them. I’ve no idea what the situation is after Covid because we no longer get any information about them and I’ve kind of given up because it’s too much hassle to investigate what is on. Fortunately, I work from home and the teenagers sleep for the first half of the day and, theoretically, can organise themselves [although every day they ask ‘what are we doing today then?’ and turn their noses up at every creative suggestion I offer such as creating a sheet-based art project to hang as a curtain in their rooms]. Also, I think to some degree that managing work and family life simultaneously has become somewhat normalised as a result of Covid – which is not a good thing because, as we know, it is very hard.
As I type this one daughter is watching the Jimmy Saville documentary in my ‘office’ [my partner has bagged the bedroom]. Another is talking to her grandmother who is waiting to take the first one out. Only son is playing the guitar and my partner is on a lunch break and has put Catalan radio on. I have been asked several times what we are doing today and even tomorrow. I’m lucky if my forward planning extends beyond the next half hour. I have suggested everyone comes to the Festival I am helping to organise events for. There’s an event on politics tonight and daughter three does politics. There has been not one flicker of interest. Only son is saying he has homework to do and might need help. NOOOOOOOOOO.
I get around this situation in the tried and tested Covid manner. I get up early and work late. Let’s call it flexi hours. Holidays are only for the kids. For parents they mean double time. I will have two or three days off, but as holidays for parents are significantly less than holidays for children they have to be rationed.
Without proper and affordable childcare or a significant back-up team, working parents – particularly working mums still – are stuck in a cycle of exhaustion. This way of working cannot become the norm. Flexible working cannot be the ‘solution’ to a lack of childcare or any sort of care. The two go together.