Wednesday, 7 April 2010

What parents really really want: flexible childcare

There are so many facets to flexible and integrated childcare that I find it almost impossible to find a starting point. How about this one then: For the past four months, I've been working with a group of young parents (aged 18-25) as part of our Inspring Change programme. The idea behind this programme is to work with groups of young people or parents/carers to dream, plan and do: Find a solution for something they identify that holds them back, plan for this solution and implement it. Something that may inspire others to do something similar. Something that maybe even those in power find a good idea and take it on.

So with this particular group it became clear quite early on that we were heading into the direction of flexible childcare. None of the parents are currently in work, some are attempting college courses. All struggle with childcare arrangements. It's a catch 22 situation: If you're out of work, you need a job first to afford childcare, once you have the job, you don't have childcare due to waiting lists and you'll lose your job offer while you're trying to source childcare. Childcare is paid in advance, salary in arrears. Tax credits kick in months later by which time you're at best in debt (wost bankrupt). Childcare may not be available nearby and you need a car (which you can't afford) or you are asked for a deposit for a place that you don't have. Your work may have irregular hours or a shift pattern, none of which is covered by the 8am-6pm childcare provision that you may, just may be able to access.

Sometimes, you just want a break. To go shopping without the toddler hassle. To go to an appointment. To go for a job interview. To take up a get back into work programme that you want to do but that doesn't offer childcare though being aimed at single parents (you what?????? Can someone please tell me who thought this up? Target a training programme at single parents and don't provide childcare? Are they supposed to lock their kids up in the flat or what?). To sleep because your baby never sleeps. You don't actually want full days every day, or one day every week, or whatever the format of provision that the childcare providers currently favour.

So, the young parents have come up with an excellent idea: A drop in creche. A creche on demand. One where you can book a few days ahead, drop off your child(ren) and get on with something important that you have to do. No strings attached. No signing away of your or your child's soul. Just a service that is available to make life a bit easier.

Of course there is funding to think of, and regulations. Yet, there's no harm in trying something out so with the budget the group has they will be running a pilot. From 27/4/10 - 1/5/10 a drop in creche will be running for afternoon sessions. The creche is free but has to be booked in advance. There are some ground rules, but more can-do's than can't-do's. Any user of the creche will be asked for feedback so the group can figure out demand and what works.

Maybe they'll carry it further to establish a social enterprise. Maybe this will be too big to do. What they will do undoubtably is raise awareness of the importance of having a flexible childcare provision locally, one that works with the children and parents alike.

And wouldn't it be nice if there actually was funding to run such a service? A service where parents with little family support would be able to book some hours while they attend an interview, an appointment, go shopping, or get some respite? Actually, why not?



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