FOR many working parents the words summer holiday mean stress and worry rather than relaxation and fun.
Those restricted to two weeks off work while their children enjoy about six weeks of freedom from lessons must find a way to buy, beg and borrow five weeks of childcare. Most rely on a patchwork of grandparents, childminders and holiday playschemes, with the more fortunate able to reduce their working hours. As a result of councils increasing fees by 22%, the average cost for holiday care in Scotland, whether run by local authorities, community organisations or a private arrangement, is now £99.58 a week. For a family with two children and no grandparents sufficiently able or within reach, that means paying around £1000 for childcare over the summer.
Those who do so are the fortunate ones, even if it stretches their budget to the limit; parents of disabled children and those in rural areas often find there is no suitable provision in their area. They are faced with the dilemma of having to give up work when jobs are scarce, paying more than they can afford or depending on the goodwill of friends. As Jacqueline Cassidy of Children in Scotland says, relying on favours is not the way to ensure children have the best care.
The lack of enough suitable childcare places over the summer is most immediately the result of public spending cuts which have caused councils to increase fees and reduce the number of playschemes but it is also an illustration of how employment practices have failed to become family friendly.
A few large companies, mostly those with large numbers of female employees, recognise that allowing mothers to work only during school terms enables them to retain valued staff. Such arrangements are not possible in every workplace but in the internet age when executives can keep in touch from the beach more parents could surely work from home.
Children in Scotland is calling for extending affordable, accessible and good quality out-of-school care into the holidays to be included in the Scottish Government's forthcoming Children and Young People's Bill. In the current economic climate, it is difficult to justify requiring councils to provide extra services which would add to their costs. Yet, as Cosla's spokesman for education, children and young people, Councillor Douglas Chapman, says, councils are committed to providing quality childcare and supporting families. This is an area that would benefit from some lateral thinking. Partnerships with voluntary organisations and charities could provide activities from sports to music or conserving the environment. Summer holidays should be an opportunity to learn something new.
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