Parents across the UK have been adapting over the last weeks to a new – and possibly changing – school routine which may feature staggered start and end times, no or reduced out of hours care, local lockdowns, sudden closures and all manner of other things. It’s a lot to get your head around and, when you have, it can all change. At only son’s school the drive through pick-up system didn’t go to plan so we got an email halfway through the week that it was changing to a queue and walk-through system. There was much consternation on the class whatsapp group from parents who had younger kids and feared they would have to pick up one child half an hour earlier and then come back to pick up an older child.
Parents of more than one child are tending to face longer pick-up and drop-off times. Parents who don’t want their kids to go on public transport are having to drop and pick them up. Parents with kids at different schools are trying to coordinate a carefully time rota based around the different staggered, to the minute, pick-up and drop-off times. The lack of wraparound care is a real problem for many working parents. In only son’s school, there is a breakfast club, but you have to book it for the entire term whereas before it was more flexible. After school activities, unless confined to one class group, may not be possible.
The rule of six, starting today, is likely to create more headaches for many parents who have been reliant on other parents picking up their kids for playdates or on other family members, particularly for those who live in England where children under 12 are not exempt.
A survey of parents out last week by VitaMinds, a free NHS mental health psychological talking therapy service, found that parents were spending on average 46-minutes extra a day (230 minutes a week) undertaking new tasks like staggering school drop-off and pick-up times, washing school uniform regularly and stepping in for lack of wrap-around care as an immediate consequence of the pandemic. Sixty-one per cent of the 2,000 parents surveyed said they needed up to an hour more per day to meet new childcare demands and 47% admitted to feeling overwhelmed by the additional childcare management and admin needed as a result of changes to life caused by Covid-19.
Employers need to be aware of these issues, but, judging from the emails we are getting, some think everything is back to normal or are so stressed that they are doubling down and enforcing rigid hours in the workplace. In some cases people are asking for minimal flexibility – to move their lunch hour a little later or to work half an hour later in the day so they can pick up kids – and being turned down. There needs to be clear acknowledgement from the government that reopening the schools in line with the government guidance does not mean things are not back to normal and that there are still many challenges facing parents.
As predicted, the back to the office campaign, which the Welsh government has just rowed back on, has been drowned out in the last few days by concerns about the rising rate of infection. That was always going to be the case. There is a bumpy road ahead and employers who plan for that and who are flexible will be the ones who are best able to navigate what is to come.