When crisis management becomes an everyday thing

It looks as if the homeworking/homeschooling/childcare combo could be here for a while so how can exhausted parents keep going?

women sleeping on laptop


We’re all waiting for the government guidance on Sunday on how we get out of lockdown, even if, with hundreds still dying every day, it might seem a little premature.

One thing that seems to be clear is that homeworking is likely to continue for some time – mainly because it will take pressure off the transport network, is safer and gets around some of the many issues related to childcare and schools.

Nevertheless, we are receiving a number of emails from parents who are being taken off furlough and told they have to go back to work outside the home even though there is only childcare currently available for key workers’ and vulnerable children. What are these parents supposed to do? Many tell us they have asked for furlough, but been turned down. Sometimes this is a misunderstanding of the furlough rules – employers assume that if they are open for work, employees cannot be furloughed. Yet if you cannot work due to lack of childcare availability you can also be furloughed. Sometimes it is due to financial pressures on employers – they need that employee to be in work. We’ve heard from parents being told to bring their children to work, which they are understandably worried about doing.

There are no easy solutions. The main focus with regard to children has been on schools and on older children – year sixes, years 10 and 12…Someone has to go first, of course, and it seems logical that, in primary school, it is older children who may be more able to social distance, although, from what teachers are saying, even that seems an almost impossible task. It’s hard to see how younger children will be attending daily any time soon and, as long as they aren’t, parents will need to work from home and home school, at least on the days their kids are not doing a school shift.

And, as for pre-school, it’s unclear what the next months hold. Early years settings have been calling for increased support for years and are doing so even more now as a result of increasing financial pressures on them. There seems to be a funding spiral – financially pressed parents are understandably angry at childcare settings for continuing to charge when they are closed or their children can’t attend, while childcare settings complain of dire consequences due to historic underfunding, confusing and changing government guidance, an inability to access government schemes and a lack of insurance cover for pandemics. Insurance businesses, meanwhile, claim they would be bankrupt if they covered businesses for pandemics.

The government, under pressure from all manner of businesses, says it is continuing to pay early years funding, even though that only covers three and four year olds [and only during term time and for between 15 and 30 hours a week] and some two year olds, and that childcare providers can access its furlough and income protection schemes plus loans. Childcare providers say they can’t pay off the loans and that the guidance on furlough keeps changing.

It’s a huge mess, which seems to be of little interest to the national press for some reason, perhaps because those in power still think childcare is a woman thing rather than a society thing.

In the middle of it all are stressed parents, and, let’s face it, the majority are probably women because it is still assumed they will do most of this type of stuff. They soldier on with no foreseeable let-up in sight, burning the candle at both ends, trying to work around nap times [which may change according to the day], breaking off in the middle of writing a complex strategy document to give a 10-minute masterclass on improper fractions or to wake up teenagers and give them a tiny ounce of motivation…

Crisis management is supposed to be a short-term thing, but the current crisis is turning into something that could continue for some time. In the long term and without a rethink, it is likely that early years childcare places will drop significantly as a result of the undervaluing of childcare – and working women – generally and that those without access to grandparents or able to afford nannies will suffer most.

In the meantime, it looks as if women [mainly] will find themselves once again tied to the home or having to get creative, for instance, increasing their ‘circle of trust’ and pooling childcare. It’s not that I am against remote working – I’ve done it for years – but remote working combined with childcare is a whole different kettle of fish and a recipe for long-term stress and exhaustion. Are we ready for the consequences?

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