NEF: Who’s looking after your children over the holidays?
Blog posted by: Aidran Harper, 26 July 2016.
This week marks the start of the school summer holidays. While many will have fond memories of the endless summers of our childhoods, the holidays can be a stressful time for parents. School holiday childcare is limited and expensive, especially for parents with children over 12 years old, children with disabilities, and for people living in deprived or rural areas.
There is not enough affordable childcare in the UK and this issue is quickly becoming a crisis. Local authorities cannot meet the demands for childcare over the holidays with 88 per cent of local authorities in England, 78 per cent in Scotland and 100 per cent in Wales falling short of local needs. While a recent report revealed that the soaring costs of childcare is having a negative impact on the standard of living for many working families.
How are parents making up the hours?
Flexible working hours help parents meet childcare needs over term time, but it’s much harder during school holidays. Some couples resort to ‘shift parenting’ where they split their own annual leave and take it in turns to look after their children. Leaning on family and friends to provide informal childcare is another way of covering these gaps – 41 per cent of working families with children under 15 depend on friends and family over the school holidays, most usually provided by grandparents.
More support for school-age children
Currently, the government’s focus is on providing childcare for pre-school children. But this fails to address the issue of over 5 million children aged 4–15, who live in local authorities with insufficient holiday childcare.
For councils, funding is severely limited – summer childcare is paid out of the already over-stretched general schools budget. This means that councils can only afford to be the “provider of last resort” for childcare, which makes it hard for them to offer holiday care directly.
However, from September parents will have the ‘right to request’ that the school their child attends provides holiday and ‘wraparound’ childcare (covering the time before and after school when many parents are working). It’s a step in the right direction, but there’s still no guarantee that the school will be able to meet actual childcare requirements because they are not obliged to act.
Clearly parents need more of a say over the design of childcare, and by playing a role themselves they could make it more affordable too. So what’s the alternative?
Involving parents to design childcare that works
NEF is working with the Family and Childcare Trust to develop parent-led childcare cooperatives. The co-operative model involves parents in the design of childcare to make sure it is suited to their specific needs.
As part of this, parents contribute some of their time to help in the classroom alongside childcare professionals. By volunteering their time, parents collectively can cover more childcare hours, cutting costs. While professionals and parents working together alongside can improve the quality of care that’s provided.
Parent-led childcare cooperatives could provide for pre-school childcare as well as for older children during school holidays. We think a parent-led model is exactly what is needed in the current childcare market.
It’s already a significant part of provision in other countries: there are over 500 parent co-ops in New Zealand, making up 12 per cent of the market; Canada’s parent co-ops reach 34,000 families and make up about 9 per cent of childcare provision; and Sweden has 910 parent co-ops, looking after over 20,000 children.
The UK’s current approach to childcare provision is not working for families. Co-producing childcare co-ops that suit the hours and incomes of the parents that run them will provide a viable option for families that are struggling under the current system – making life better for parents, for staff, and children across the country.
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