Employees, employers and childcare providers all need to be more flexible to ensure that parents can continue to work and find decent childcare, says Sarah-Jane Butler
The current financial climate has affected the availability and type of childcare in many homes. Being one of the most expensive drains on a family’s resources, it has in many cases resulted in one parent remaining at home, unable to balance the cost of external childcare with net income.Times are tough on childcare providers too as parents either take on the role themselves, or seek cheaper forms of childcare. Employers also feel the effect of these tough times as good and experienced staff leave to look after their children.Flexibility, however, may well be the key to resolve not only a parent’s desire to have good childcare but also an employer’s need to retain valuable staff and a provider’s need for employment.Childcare is expensive. The typical cost of a full-time day nursery place is £177 a week for a child younger than two. Day nursery places also tend to be more expensive if the child is under two-years-old because babies and toddlers require more hands-on care, so the nursery needs to employ more staff.
Child-minders charge about £3.84 per child per hour and may charge more if they live in an area where there’s a high demand. A nanny is usually the most expensive childcare option as parents become an employer and therefore pay tax and national insurance in addition to the net salary.
Parents also have to take into consideration the cost of commuting and the daily expenses of providing for their children. In many cases the total cost can outstrip a parent’s take-home pay and it’s often cheaper for a parent to stay at home.
Parents could consider the possibility of combining different forms of childcare, working patterns and costs to achieve their desired outcome. Possible examples include:
- A nanny share – sharing the cost of a full-time nanny with another family
- A combination of a nanny and a nursery – the nanny tops and tails the day with the child spending most of the day at nursery
- Staggered starts to the working day – this allows a parent to take the child to nursery with a family member or nanny picking up the child at the end of the day
- Finding a daycare facility close to work thereby combining the commute and nursery trip.
To make childcare work in terms of time and costs, many parents look to their employers for flexible working. Flexible working is not just part-time work; it can be a combination of working from home one to two days a week or concentrated hours, for example, five days in four, job sharing or flexi-time.
Parents considering this will have to be realistic about their employers’ and colleagues’ concerns and put together a balanced proposal to counter any issues that may arise. Some areas to address include: how their work will be redistributed, how a parent can mitigate the impact on team members, how flexible a can parent be around their hours, and whether the parent has the resources to work from home.
Flexible working could also benefit employers and employees alike. Employers need to be open-minded about the different types of working patterns available. If an employee can present rational and balanced proposal for flexible working, it can benefit both parties. Employers will find this difficult to refuse, especially as it demonstrates how serious an employee is about their career, and the more an employer does to encourage a parent back to work, the more loyalty and commitment they enjoy.
The final point to consider is childcare providers. Many nurseries now have extended opening hours to allow parents to drop their children off early or pick them up later. Breakfast clubs and after school groups are a great idea and avoid the rush back home. The more flexible a nursery, nanny or child-minder is prepared to be, the more attractive they are to parents who do not need the time restrictions or stress that is caused by trying to rush home.
All these things must be considered to ensure that a parent can continue to work and find decent childcare. Ultimately flexibility is the factor to ensure children receive necessary childcare and parents relieve themselves of the stress that combining work and childcare can create.