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Clear information or at least signposting to where people can get it is vital in this time of unprecedented crisis.
We are getting in a whole host of questions from parents in the current crisis, as many organisations like us are. Many are about childcare. This is one sample question:
“I am a single parent and I have no one to help me. My son is 5 and I am a key worker as a nurse. The school hub is nowhere near me; the hours are terrible. I have a babysitter who is willing to help me which she usually does. The guidelines say you cannot go from house to house. The babysitter is young and healthy. His dad is in 12 weeks isolation and I don’t know what to do any more. Lone parents who are key workers need more thought.”
The truth is that the Government guidance is unclear, perhaps deliberately so because if you tell people they can use babysitters then will everyone start to do so?
As far as I can ascertain, and I’ve asked the Department for Education several times, the Government advice is that people over 70 or with underlying health conditions should not look after children.
That has been written up in the media as: ‘Government bans grandparents from contact with grandchildren’, but what if you are a grandparent in their 50s or 60s who is healthy?
The Government also clearly advises everyone to reduce their social contacts as much as possible and not to go out except for four main purposes, including work if that work absolutely cannot be done at home.
Key workers are told to use registered childminders, schools and nurseries. The trouble is many are closing due to lack of staff and/or children. They have been asked to be flexible on their hours, but NHS shifts are 24/7.
In many couples both parents are key workers. Many NHS workers are also single parents. Ex-partners may not live nearby or be in contact or, as above, they may be in isolation or have underlying health conditions.
Key workers who have used grandparents in the past to save money say they cannot afford childcare, particularly if their children are under three. All the normal childcare issues are coming home to roost and there doesn’t seem to be a single point where you can get clear information, although we have been telling people to contact their local authority which can advise on local childcare availability for key workers.
Of course, in the midst of all of this many employers are being very understanding and bending over backwards to accommodate the often complex situations their employees find themselves in, but some are not, for instance, some are expecting parents who are working from home to just get on and do their jobs without given any leeway to those who are doing so in very difficult circumstances, particularly those with toddlers.
But the main issue at the moment for many who are asking questions is key workers’ access to childcare when they cannot work from home. We have heard stories that key workers who are separated who have been fined for sharing care, even though Michael Gove said this was possible.
We cannot verify this, but in the absence of clear information people are worried and don’t know what to do. It seems ridiculous that at a time when we have never needed our NHS workers more people are losing time worrying about childcare because of a lack of clear information or at the very least somewhere where they can go to get it.
In a crisis, information is vital. No-one predicted the extent of the current crisis, but clear information needs to be a priority, most particularly for key workers, so they can get on and do the job we so desperately need them to do.