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Working Lunch Wednesday, 18 June, 2003, 12:51 GMT 13:51 UK
Parents need more help
Father and child
Parents who work unsocial hours are suffering because of the lack of childcare.

But just as important as providing more out-of-hours facilities, it seems, is protecting parents from the demands of 24 hour-a-day, seven day-a-week society.

Two new reports for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation argue that new policies and services are needed to help parents, working outside the normal 9 to 5, better balance their work and family lives.

Childcare 24/7

The first report looked into childcare services offering care at atypical times and found the situation severely lacking.

Because of our 24 hour, seven day-a-week culture, parents are often forced to work long and unsociable hours.

The majority of whom have to depend on spouses, friends and family to look after children whilst at work because few, if any nurseries or childminders offer care after 7pm or at weekends.

According to Megan Pacey from the Day-care Trust, finding the necessary care could prove difficult.

Megan Pacey - Daycare Trust
Daycare Trust: "Finding the care could prove difficult."

"Child carers themselves often have families and don't want to be looking after other people's children all hours of the day and night, so it's a tough nut to crack."

A survey of 150 Early Years Development and Childcare partnerships found that only a third had made progress towards offering services outside normal working hours.

But is the answer simply to get existing childcare providers to open for longer?

The report suggests not.

Time to re-think

June Statham, co-author of the report says: "Childcare services at non-standard times of day cannot simply be bolted on to existing services.

"It may be better to develop new types of services, recruiting people without current childcare responsibilities."

Moreover, a more fundamental change in employment policy might be necessary.

Anne Mooney, another of the reports authors, says: "We need to consider how policies and working hours could be made more family friendly so that parents have less need for care at these times."

Self-employed

One of the biggest groups of people depending on out of hours care are the self-employed.

A second study, carried out by the National Centre for Social Research, found that one in four families have at least one self-employed parent.

This study found that long working hours were commonplace.

Self-employed mothers who employed staff were more likely to work long hours.

And nearly six out of ten fathers who employed other people worked more than 48 hours a week, often working both Saturday and Sunday.

Many self-employed people, especially women, choose self-employment because it offers more flexibility to work at hours to suit.

And many parents do shift work to avoid the cost of child care i.e. one parent works nights, the other days.

This leads to 'shift-parenting' says Megan of the Day Care Trust.

"Shift parenting is where parents work at opposite ends of the day and share the childcare duties.

"The partners themselves can pass like ships in the night, which is not always healthy for their relationship."

Better protection

Ivana La Valle, one of the report's authors says: " It could be argued that self-employed parents should benefit from similar legislative protection against excessive working hours to the law covering employees."

Employees have far more protection in this regard, there is a cap on the number of hours that should be worked in any one week, plus statutory leave requirements.

Many small businesses are likely to feel obliged to open long hours and to work on Sundays because of competition and loss of trade if they do not.

But working on a Sunday, for most parents, is extremely unpopular indeed.

"The research findings," Ivana says, "raise the question of how far the government should go to promote the merits of a 24/7 society when it has such negative consequences for family life."

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