Childcare. The devil is often in the detail. When older daughter started school, my head nearly exploded trying to get together the patchwork of childcare that was needed so both parents could work their allocated hours. Often I feel so frustrated trying to juggle work and childcare that I feel like throwing in the towel and give up work.
For over a year, I've tried to improve on this situation. Younger daughter has been on the waiting list for the council day nursery that is in the same building as the school for years. This year we even got offered a place. These were the hours:
Monday, Thur, Fri 1-4pm
Tue and Weds 9-4pm
My application had been for 2 or 3 full days, with flexibility on which days of the week the full days would fall on. We've been on the waiting list for 2 full years. 9am-4pm are not full days, especially as I work a 45 minute car drive away (I've given up even considering cycling or public transport). I pleaded and pleaded because fact is that our circumstances are thus that it's touch and go if I can fulfil my work requirements even with our current childcare set up. But no, it was 9am-4pm or nothing. So I had to say thanks, but no thanks.
My case is no exception. Council nurseries, even if they offer extended hours (which is not the norm - in Glasgow most council nurseries only offer 3 hours a day to 3-5s, usually as afternoons for the ante pre-school year and mornings for the pre-school year), hardly ever offer them as 8am-6pm which would actually allow parents to fit in a full day's work plus the travel to and from the work place. Currently, the best I could get is a nursery 3 miles from home and 4 miles from work, 3 days a week from 8.30am-5pm (when I would need it from 8.30pm-5.30pm), supplemented by one day at a childminder, and a back up childminder for the 5th day of the week in case I have to work it on occasions. And I'm not alone: A friend was offered 9am-5pm and couldn't accept the offer either as her work could not accommodate such hours. In theory, these are council nurseries that are open 8am-6pm, but they do not generally offer the full length of hours, making it impossible to use them if parents work full days.
Effectively, this means that working parents have to choose childminders or private provision, both of which are significantly more expensive and sometimes do not offer the same quality of service. If the working parents in question are on low incomes, private childcare more often than not is unaffordable.
Add to this that there aren't many council nurseries who offer full day care at all, and the prospect for parents on low incomes becomes rather bleak. I have met aspiring young mums who couldn't take up the college place they were offered because of lack of childcare or inability to pay the one month deposit plus a month in advance that private nurseries ask for. Or mums who wouldn't even apply for a job because they knew the waiting list for a nursery place was long and they would have to start the job within a month or two, with no prospect of sourcing a childcare place in the same timescale.
If I was on a low income, and didn't have a car, there would be no way I could continue to work, or take up a new job. For one, the daily home-school-nursery-work-nursery-childminder-home run is planned out to the minute and only doable by car. I only got a place for the younger sibling because older sibling was already at the nursery (who in turn had been on the waiting list for 2 years before getting offered a place). And I'm lucky that having been with the same council nursery for years, they have accommodated that I can take the 5 free pre-school sessions over 3 days, a set up which would not be offered as a general rule.
Save the Children have just launched a childcare campaign in Scotland asking the Scottish Government for more high quality, accessible, affordable and flexible childcare, so that especially families on lower incomes are able to access affordable and flexible childcare that allows them to work. Currently this is not the case, and the lack of suitable childcare is the biggest barrier particularly for mums to stay in or enter the workplace.
If you can spare a minute, please support the campaign by signing the petition to the Scottish Government to extend free childcare and make it available in a more flexible way, which is currently being debated for the new Children and Young People Bill. Feel free of course to share the petition link in you networks, so that the Scottish Government can hear the voices of parents loud and clear.
You can read the full report Give us a Hand with Childcare here.