Workingmums.co.uk speaks to Sarah-Jane Butler, founder of Parental Choice, which offers a one-stop shop solution to childcare issues.
When Sarah-Jane Butler was on maternity leave with her first child she started doing research about her childcare possibilities. She spent a lot of time trying to find out what the best nurseries were in her area and what childcare would work best for her and her daughter. “At the time I thought this is crazy. There must be someone who can help,” she says. There were lots of different organisations – nanny agencies to tell her about nannies, local authorities to tell her about childminders and various websites which gave information about different nurseries, but what she wanted was a one-stop childcare shop. “I said to my husband and father ‘there needs to be something to make it easier to plot your childcare, something like a career plan for children’,” she adds.
When she did go back to work she applied for flexible working. Sarah-Jane, a high-flying financial lawyer who had been planning on partnership, had her request granted, but, she says given the recession, work was limited. It was a stressful time.
“My dad asked what happened to my idea for a one-stop shop,” she says. “I thought why not. I was pregnant with my second child. It was slightly insane, but it was something that seemed fundamental to me.”
She set up the company while she was still at her legal job and pregnant. A friend helped her create the website. Sarah-Jane did a lot of research and started retraining as an employment lawyer, specialising in nanny contracts. Friends and contacts who were childcare and education experts helped write the copy for the website. Parental Choice was formed in June 2011 and was launched in September. Sarah-Jane left her job when she went on maternity leave in October and spent her first week of maternity leave attending lots of employment law courses. Her second daughter was born in November.
Payroll, childcare searches and corporate packages
Parental Choice fulfils three main functions. It does all the payroll and employment contracts for domestic workers. “We take away all the administrative hassle of employing a nanny,” says Sarah-Jane. They outsource payroll issues to a consultancy firm and plan also to advise on pensions and insurance.
They also conduct childcare searches, covering everything from maternity nurses, nannies, childminders and au pairs to nurseries, primary and secondary schools and tutors for children up to the age of 16. “We source everything for our clients and do all the reference and DBS checks. We also cover first aid for nannies and au pairs,” says Sarah-Jane. With school and nursery searches, they provide a list of good and outstanding schools and nurseries in a five-mile radius from a particular location and can tailor this for particular specialisms such as sport. They will find out if a school has had a warning against it; they can set up interviews with private schools and find out about open days. “We cover the things that it takes parents forever to do,” she says.
The last function is to provide corporate employee benefit services to companies like L’Oreal and Citi Bank. For example, L’Oreal offers its employees a free childcare search via Parental Choice. The package they provide includes newsletters, talks and reduced costs on their services.
Sarah-Jane worked from her own home until last December when she moved to an office five minutes from her house in Surrey. Her first client came on board in August 2011 and her first employee, a friend of hers who is an HR expert, came on board as a consultant in September 2012 as the business was getting busier and busier. Parental Choice now has four employees, all of whom are mums, although Sarah-Jane says this is not by design. “The hours we do suit them [everyone works four days a week and school hours] and they understand how childcare works,” she says.
Sarah-Jane herself has used different forms of childcare, including a childminder, a nursery and a nanny and she has also tried working around the sleep patterns of her baby in the company’s early days. She does some work at weekends and in the evenings – indeed this flexibility is used in her a sales pitch – but is always there for her children’s dinner, bath and bedtime. “I worked hard as a City lawyer,” she says, “but I do not think I have ever worked as hard as I have in the last three years. It is my business. For me it means everything. It has allowed me precious time with my children.”