How can employers support employees’ summer holiday childcare requirements?

childcare summer holiday

Need to know:

  • Working parents may struggle to arrange childcare for the school summer holidays due to the increase in ad-hoc requirements compared to term time.
  • Employers can implement various benefits, such as employer-funded back-up care or childcare search services, to help working parents plan for the summer break.
  • An organisational culture that embraces flexible working can help accommodate parents who need to care for children at home or change their hours to suit childcare needs.

The long school summer holiday can pose a financial and logistical nightmare for working parents, particularly those who rely on term-time breakfast and after school clubs.

Often, parents have to cobble together a patchwork of care types, ranging from paid parental leave, summer holiday play schemes, informal childcare through friends and family, and annual leave entitlement.

Paul Quartly, head of business development at Bright Horizons Family Solutions, says: “All add up to a solution, but one that is logistically difficult and generally [adds] to the stresses and strains that working parents face. The school holidays are really a symptom of one of the most pressing challenges that working parents have.”

So, how can employers help?

Practical supports

Employers can fund a back-up care benefit for staff, which enables employees to access a set number of emergency childcare or adult care days when arrangements fall through.

Many back-up care schemes now include access to school holiday clubs, adds Ben Black, chief executive officer at My Family Care. This service is typically subsidised by the employer and allows parents to plan specific childcare places during the summer holiday. “We already know when the school holidays are, but it doesn’t mean it’s any easier planning for it,” Black says.

An employer-funded portal or tool that enables parents to search for regular and ad-hoc childcare can also prove useful in helping working parents source play schemes, childminders or au pairs, for example. On-site crèches, nurseries or other childcare facilities can help too.

However these are more beneficial for organisations outside of London with between 500 and 1,000 employees, says Quartly. This is because employees are more likely to live locally and it is more viable for them to bring their children to work. Organisations could alternatively host one day a week where parents bring their children to work with them.

In addition, parents can access statutory unpaid parental leave, which provides 18 weeks of unpaid leave per child aged under 18. Employees are able to take up to four weeks per child, per annum, after a year of service. “This is something [employers] don’t often advertise,” notes Sarah-Jane Butler, chief executive officer at Parental Choice.

Workplace culture

Embedding flexible working as part of an organisation’s culture can further support working parents. This could include home working, varying start and finish times, condensed working hours or a ‘summer Fridays’ scheme, giving employees Friday afternoons off.

“It’s a really stressful and financially difficult period for parents, and putting in temporary flexible working arrangements [is] something that will be paid back in spades because [of] the amount of [employee] loyalty,” says Butler.

Employee networks can also support parents’ childcare arrangements. For example, those in a parents’ network might organise taking turns collecting small groups of children from the same school and looking after them at home until the other parents finish work. “[Employees] can effectively stagger out the week rather than having to pay for [holiday] camps,” Butler says. Again, this would typically work best for employers based outside London, where more parents are likely to live near one another.

Employers should also consider having a statement of goodwill or intent within their formal carers’ policy. Butler explains: “[This should say that] during the six-week summer holiday, standard working arrangements will be reconsidered. That doesn’t tie [employers] down contractually because it doesn’t say they are definitely going to do something, but it also gives parents the flexibility they need.”

Employers that recognise the challenges faced by parents over the summer break and then communicate how they can provide support can reap rewards in employee engagement, wellbeing and productivity, says Quartly. He concludes: “A culture that accepts and promotes flexible working practices and has practical supports, like back-up care, helps with the school holidays, but it is what a good, progressive employer needs to do all-year round.”