Guidance for parents on finding childcare
As more sectors of the economy reopen and lockdown measures are eased, more employees are returning to work, whether in the workplace, or from home, and so need access to childcare. According to research from the Nevin Economic Research Institute, around 350,000 employees in Northern Ireland have dependent children, with around 70% of these having ‘intensive childcare needs’.
While some childcare providers remained open throughout the pandemic for the children of keyworkers and vulnerable children, some are just beginning the process of reopening. With the removal of the key worker definition in relation to childcare from Monday 29 June, all parents are eligible to access childcare. We would advise parents to speak to their normal childcare provider as soon as they can to find out what their plans are for reopening and to agree a date for their child(ren) to return. If your normal provider has not yet reopened or cannot accommodate you, visit the Family Support NI website to find other available providers in your area.
The Department of Health has published guidelines for childcare providers around issues like cleaning, hygiene and infection control. These include the use of ‘Play Pods’ with a maximum of 12 children within day care and School Age Childcare settings, to minimise interactions across households. Childminders are allowed to care for the children from up to 4 families at any one time from July (this increases to 5 families at any one time from August). All of this guidance, which should provide some reassurance to parents as their children return to childcare, is available on the Family Support NI website.
With indoor visits to family of up to six people now permitted, this opens up the option of informal childcare for some families. Informal childcare should be distinguished from ‘unregistered’ childcare, which is childcare by providers who are not formally registered but who charge a fee for their services. It is illegal to operate as a childcare provider without being registered with the local Health and Social Care Trust and we would strongly advise parents against using any form of unregistered childcare.
Speak to your employer
The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated just how important childcare is to the economy and for employers. One employer told us recently that when staff go back to work, access to childcare will be “as essential to them as the roads that get them there”. The pandemic has also opened up the option of flexible or family friendly working for many more employees than ever before and has shown employers that it is possible to look beyond the traditional Monday to Friday 9 to 5 working pattern.
We would advise parents who are returning to work, in whatever capacity, to speak to your employer with regard to the childcare challenges you may be facing. It may be possible to continue a working from home arrangement (current Government guidance is for people to continue to work from home where they can) or to arrange a different working pattern or even to benefit from the flexible furlough scheme from July. This would allow you to work part of the time and be furloughed for part of the time (although this would most likely lead to a decrease in salary for the days you are furloughed). Alternatively you may be able to take advantage of a period of parental leave (this is usually unpaid unless your employer offers some paid parental leave).
We are here to help
Employers For Childcare is here to help. Our Family Benefits Advice Service provides advice to parents about how to find childcare, and what financial support they may be entitled to. We can also talk to employers about options such as continuing to furlough staff who are unable to work at this time, or rolling out more flexible working opportunities for their workforce. As well as supporting staff, this could also benefit employers – the business case for flexible working was strong even before the Covid-19 outbreak but now so more than ever.
Get in touch
Anyone with questions around accessing and paying for childcare can contact our Family Benefits Advice Service for free, impartial and confidential advice on 0800 028 3008 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.