The need for clarity

The Dominic Cummings affair shows how vital it is that government guidance on childcare is clear so that everyone understands what it means and can adhere to it.

This whole Dominic Cummings thing has led the news over the weekend. My concern is what that means for parents. The whole affair is still clouded in more questions than answers. Was it about childcare as first stated – was the childcare to be provided by the grandparents, as first mooted, or the 17-year-old niece? If it wasn’t about childcare, why go to Durham in the first place? etc etc.

These might seem unimportant questions, but they aren’t in the context of the Government guidance about which we are asked every single day by parents. I now have very little clarity on what the guidance is on childcare, particularly where younger children are concerned.  Are parents allowed to exercise their judgment and take their child to another member of the family’s house?

This is not a party political issue. It is about clarity of message. Parents need to know what they are allowed to do. So many are facing difficult or impossible decisions when it comes to childcare.

One of the big questions parents have is whether grandparents who are under 70 and have no underlying health issues or other family members can look after grandchildren. This has come from all manner of people, including frontline health workers who work shifts which the childcare provided for key workers does not cover. Many are single parents. They have no-one else to look after their children. Some are parents who are worried about taking their children to the childcare provided because they or someone in their household has underlying health issues, such as severe asthma. They are terrified that they will be putting their child or another loved one at risk. Others are not key workers and have had no childcare, but are being threatened with job loss if they don’t return to work.

I’ve asked several times for clarity on what they are supposed to do in these circumstances. Is annual leave [not infinite, of course] or unpaid leave the only option if your employer refuses to furlough you [which many do]? What if you can’t afford unpaid leave? These are really serious, genuine problems that parents are facing and the questions are increasing as lockdown eases and full childcare is still not back on tap, for instance, many primary schools are not opening for full days [mine certainly isn’t] or for all age groups, let alone operating breakfast clubs and after school clubs.

In the past, the Government has been slow to reply to requests for clarity on what these parents should do.  When they have replied, they have generally sent a link to the guidance about grandparents over 70 and about reducing contact between households in addition to the suggestion that parents with no childcare should take annual leave or unpaid leave if they cannot be furloughed.

Dominic Cummings points to guidance saying parents of young children are allowed to exercise their judgment in cases where children’s safety may be at risk to justify not staying at home. This is not guidance that has ever been pointed out to us before in relation to childcare so I am keen to know in what circumstances it applies. Our concern is to support parents, to give them the right advice and to protect health at this potentially dangerous juncture as we ease out of lockdown. That requires clear guidance from the Government that everyone understands.

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