My family diary: wrapping your head around wraparound

Wraparound childcare is a big topic amongst my friends, as we submit our kids’ primary school applications and the switch from nurseries to schools starts to feel more real. 

illustration showing mother and child walking home from school

 

** This blog is part of a series called The Chaos Train, a record of daily life when you work and have pre-school children **

It is 8.45pm on a Wednesday and I’m texting friends for advice about wraparound childcare. I’m drinking sage tea and eating my daily allowance of two squares of chocolate. I think I used to be cool once… 

Back in the early 2010s, when I was probably cool for a bit, I thought the word “wraparound” just referred to a type of dress or sunglasses (side-note: wraparound sunglasses have never been cool and are only acceptable in winter sports). Nowadays, this word refers to another headache in the generally headache-filled world of childcare.

We have two children, aged 4 and 2, and we’ve recently submitted our eldest child’s school application for this autumn. Amongst my mum-friends, wraparound childcare is the big topic of discussion, as the switch from nurseries that close at 6pm to schools that close at 3.30pm looms on the horizon. Suddenly it all feels more real.

The UK’s patchy and expensive childcare system seems to be a big topic of discussion for everyone at the moment. Rishi Sunak is under increasing pressure to announce more childcare funding in his spring budget – business lobby groups and some of his own MPs have started calling for reforms, turbo-charging the longstanding demands of families, childcare workers and campaigners.

Hence I’m texting around to see what my peers plan to do come the autumn. Some think they will send their children to breakfast and after-school wraparound clubs everyday from the get-go. But others face waiting lists for the wraparound clubs at their local schools, or only have clubs for specific age groups or activities. One friend who’s moved to Devon has no local wraparound care at all.

In most of the families I know, both parents are working, although quite a few of the mums work 3-4 days a week. And so in the absence of reliable wraparound care, our main options are nannies (if you can find one and afford one), grandparents (if you have healthy ones who live locally), or staying in part-time work (there goes your pension).

As I look into our local options in the Midlands, I feel daunted. I’d always planned to work three days a week until our eldest child started school and then start upping my work hours. After all, she’ll be out of the house five days a week, right? And we’ll be able to afford more nursery days for our second child, right? This feels a bit naive now.

As one of the friends I’ve texted puts it: “No one finishes work at 3.30pm. Not even the teachers.” (Well, especially not the teachers.)

Part-timers and patchworks

illustration showing clock

Meanwhile, far above us, the childcare debate gets louder. The CBI is calling for reforms largely because businesses across the country are struggling with staff shortages – sorting out childcare is one way to help more parents to return to work and to put in more hours. 

The UK should certainly provide affordable childcare for all families – that’s a given. But I also feel unsure about the notion that, if the state simply invests in childcare that mimics a traditional working week, then everything is sorted. Families are unique and messy and complicated, and there are myriad reasons why the traditional working week doesn’t suit a lot of people.

In our case, we’re lucky that the local schools have a decent amount of wraparound spaces, but I’m pretty sure my daughter will be too tired for after-school clubs everyday, especially while she’s settling in. Some children love it but every child is different. And for my part, I would miss her, especially after spending much of the Covid lockdowns in a universe for two.

Families certainly need better childcare options – but they also need a wider range of career options. I’ve done job-shares or part-time roles for the past three years and it’s worked well for me (although not for my pension). But the need for more decently-paid part-time jobs is largely missing from the government’s noises about the worker shortage, even though the demand for such work is four times higher than supply.  

This autumn, my husband and I aim to create a patchwork of after-school care that suits our needs: one day of wraparound, one day of grandparents, one day where my husband does pick-up, two days where I do it. It’ll probably suit us well for a bit, then not suit us, and then we’ll figure out something else. We’re not machines. Such is life.



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