Summer childcare dilemma

summer holidays


The majority of working mums don’t have summer childcare sorted yet, according to a poll.

The poll shows 57% of mums have not got summer childcare sorted, compared to 21% who have and 22% who don’t need summer childcare.

One woman said: “I work too many hours to get help with childcare costs, have no time off over the holidays, and half term hols have been blanked out by my manager. I have no family in the area and can’t afford to pay a childminder either.”

Of those who had got childcare sorted, cost was a big issue. One mum said simply: “Yes, but it costs more than what I earn!” Another said she had had to pay for a private nursery which was “very expensive”.

Some who were looking for jobs were worried about the implications of summer childcare. One woman said: “I am a single mum of a child whose behaviour is not the best and I’m scared that when I get a job it will affect him or I will have to leave my job because people can’t look after him properly.”

However, some who had got childcare sorted had managed to spread the load by dividing care between grandparents, partners and others. One woman said she only had to pay for childcare for only one of the five-six weeks of summer holidays.

Holiday childcare is a regular headache for many working families and the cost continues to rise. Last year a Family and Childcare Trust report found holiday childcare went up by 1.7% on the previous year, with the average holiday club costing over £114 a week.

Over a third of parents found it difficult to find affordable holiday childcare, a quarter had had to cut their hours, 17% had taken days off sick to manage and over one in 10 had been forced to give up their jobs to look after their children. Just over a quarter of English local authorities and 6% of Welsh one had enough holiday childcare for working parents and this was worse for school-aged children, those living in rural areas and disabled children.

Single parents
During the recent elections most of the proposed childcare policies focused on early years childcare even though many parents find the school years more of a challenge – particularly single parents.

The lack of childcare provision over the holidays or after school finishes can mean the difference between staying in work or having to leave or take lower paid, more flexible alternatives.

A survey of single parents earlier this year found better childcare for after school and holidays was by far the greatest concern, more than twice as big an issue as more free childcare for under fives.

Some employers are looking at new ways to help out. One such employer is Deloitte which recently implemented an agile working programme which includes an initiative for employees to request one month off unpaid at any time in the year. The month has to be taken in a block. Employees are not asked to put forward a reason for taking the month off, but the majority who have requested it up till now have done so to spend more time with their families, particularly in the summer months which tends to be less busy for business. The time out must be at a time that fits with business needs, that is, not at a peak periods. The negotiation process for taking time out involves a staff member first speaking to their manager informally and talking through what the best time would be for both.

Managers are encouraged to have a positive mindset towards requests and to find ways that can make them work.

Deloitte says many of the requests it has received have been from dads, with parents weighing up the cost of unpaid leave versus money saved on, for instance, summer holiday childcare. Some part-time staff have also considered increasing to five days a week as a result of the ability to take one month off. Deloitte says that with proper planning, continuity of business has not been adversely affected.

Many parents would not be able to forego earnings over the summer holidays, but the initiative at least puts the holiday challenge on the agenda. Every year there are also calls for a shortening of the summer holidays, but opinion is still divided on this. Moreover, switching holiday around would not deal with the essential problem that parents’ holiday, even two parents’ holiday combined, falls well short of children’s.

Another alternative is annualised hours or term time only working. Christina Leafe, Director, Land & Environment Consultancy, at Atkins devised her own solution when her children were younger. She effectively did a term time only contract, but presented it to her manager as a 93% contract involving two weeks off at Christmas, two weeks at Easter, school inset days and four weeks over the summer. It allowed her to stay in her senior job and to continue to rise up the career ladder.

Between them, parents and employers are having to come up with increasingly creative approaches to holiday childcare as more and more families face the challenge.

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