Finding the right childcare when working full time or flexibly can be like finding a needle in a haystack and if you do find that needle it is often diamond and gold-plated! Parents spend up to 45% of their disposable income on childcare and when it comes to a return to work, families (and in particular, mothers) often have to make a decision as to whether it is even worth working after paying for childcare. Many parents therefore try, with some creative thinking, to combine flexible working with childcare to try and achieve a “happy” medium.
43% of working women in the UK now work part time or flexibly, the majority of these choosing part time / flexible working to balance childcare.
Flexible working requests are reassuringly becoming a norm, not only for those parents returning to work after maternity or paternity leave but also throughout the lifecycle of parenting. A parent’s working arrangements can change several times as their children grow up. As many parents quickly realise, the days of a worrying about how to leave the office at 5pm in order to collect from a nursery at 6pm, are soon replaced by school pick-ups and how to keep your child safe during the 13 weeks of school (and that’s just if your children are in the state school system!).
Unfortunately, whilst your working arrangements may be flexible your childcare is inherently inflexible. Therefore, parents are forced to look at creative solutions and combinations in order to find solutions to meet their needs. Nurseries have set hours; childminders will only pick up from certain schools, school holidays are fixed and so as their childcare is often inflexible so parents have to seek greater and further working flexibility at certain times of year or at certain times in their child’s life.
So back to basics what are your childcare options?
Nannies provide the most flexible option for childcare when your children are young, and being based from your home if you need to work late, they can also ensure the children are then put to bed and your house is tidy. Nannies are widely regarded as the most expensive option, but the reality is that if you have 2 or 3 children to care for, they can be cheaper than nursery fees. Nanny shares (whereby two employers share one nanny) can also provide further financial advantages and is a popular solution for many working flexibly.
Nurseries provide the least flexible childcare but are open all year round, except when your child is ill and they are unable to go. They have set hours and set sessions that you must pay for regardless of whether your child goes and there can be high penalties if you are late.
Childminders provide a home from home setting with relatively fixed hours but they do provide more flexibility particularly for families who need less standard hours, shorter days or part-time care. Most will also offer nursery or school drop off and pick up options (although they will only usually pick up from certain establishments).
Family has a great benefit of being free, home based and flexible to suit your hours however it is important for the family member to be fully committed (such as not taking lots of holidays when you need cover!) as arguments can cause more problems personally than within a professional relationship. Building a network of school families is essential not only for those emergency situations when you are running late home but also to arrange swapping playdates or holiday cover… a bit of sharing the load for childcare is a great way of cutting down on summer camp costs.
Au-Pairs are a very popular choice when children go to school as like a nanny they will work just for you and can offer 25-30 hours a week providing cover before and after school. Financially they are the cheapest option, providing you have a spare room available for them, but au pairs often have no (or very limited) childcare experience and travel to the UK for a cultural experience of only between 6-12 months.
Breakfast Clubs and After School Clubs are available not just at your school but also some local nurseries offer a local school collection service and then they care for the children in premises near to the school.
So how do you go about finding the right childcare for your family?
The biggest piece of advice for any parent thinking of childcare is to plan ahead but also to constantly reassess. Childcare needs unfortunately change such as when there is a change is circumstances like going to school or changing schools, new additions to the family and also the needs of your children change nearly every year. What is a major bonus is an open and frank relationship with your employer, because the key to achieving the “happy” medium is trying to achieve flexibility on all sides.
Ultimately the right childcare option is the one that leaves your children happy, stimulated and safe and you with great peace of mind but also one that creates the less stress possible for busy working parents, whether working full-time or flexibly.
This blog written by Parental Choice has also been featured on mummyjobs.co.uk “getting mums back into business”