Mission impossible? Managing the 10-week school holiday gap with a busy career | Women's Agenda

Mission impossible? Managing the 10-week school holiday gap with a busy career

In our house, school holidays are yearned for; we love having everyone home and sharing a break from the routine of school and extra-curricula commitments.

However, the reality is that managing 10-15 weeks of school holidays per year with work and its related deadlines is a logistical nightmare.

For most working parents with the average 4 weeks of annual leave, there is a significant shortfall in time available to care for the kids during the holidays. It’s often referred to as ‘juggling work and caring responsibilities’; but a more accurate description is mission impossible.

And it’s a mission impossible that sees many chose (or feel forced) to instead drop out of the workforce.    

One of the keys to workplace gender equality is the provision of affordable care for children outside the home. There are an estimated 3.6 million children under the age of 12 requiring child care in Australia, split across before and/or after school care, long day care, family day care, occasional care and informal care, according to the 2013 AWCCI Child Care Issues Paper. Many families rely on school care and vacation care arrangements to plug the gap of 10-15 weeks of school holidays with only 4 weeks leave.

Children over the age of 12 are not eligible for these care arrangements. At age 12 (usually around Year 7 and older) many are unsupervised either at home or elsewhere, according to 2012 data from the Australian Institute of Family Studies. 

But too few organisations have acknowledged the necessary link between increasing workforce gender diversity and providing practical, affordable arrangements for children of ALL age groups. According to the 2014 Families and Work Institute National Study of Employers, just 7% of employers in the US provide on-site childcare or some kind of school programs.

In Australia, a range of organisations are providing holiday options, from the 2 day school holiday STEM camps PwC offers, to the groundbreaking program at IAG, providing an onsite school holiday program, called Kids @ IAG. Some IAG offices offer coverage for every school holiday, while others cover 4 weeks of the calendar year. For a small employee donation, kids come to work with mum or dad, and are provided with a range of supervised activities to suit office hours.

My children are 11 and 12; the youngest can currently attend vacation care at school but the oldest no longer has that option. In their younger years, I was employed by IBM, with the priceless benefit of buying an additional 4 weeks leave as well as a role with 100% flexibility. My husband and I are now both self-employed specifically for this purpose; to be available to spend time with them on their 15 weeks of school holidays as year (at least as much as is possible while running dual businesses). 

Internationally, a number of large employers are offering innovative solutions for helping parents manage the caring gap. See some of the options that are available below — most based in the US. 

  • Abbott Laboratories. A special room called “The Lodge” offers programs for school-age children. Whenever these children are not in school, they may come to the centrr. It is in the same area where at least one of their parents works. The older children learn about nature, do science experiments, play games and take special trips. Created a program called “Summer of Service”. This program is for teenagers who are too young to work but too old for traditional summer camps. The teenagers work on projects that are fun but also provide a service to their community.
  • Citi. Has seven on-site child care facilities, as well as parenting networks and free counseling sessions that help members address kids-specific issues.
  • CSL. Was recognised as one of Australia’s most outstanding equal opportunity employers by the Federal Government after setting up a $4.8 million dollar onsite child care centre at its corporate headquarters in Parkville Victoria.
  • Ford Motor Company. Ford and its labor union, the United Auto Workers, created Family Service and Learning Centers with programs for teenagers and older children before and after school.
  • Goldman Sachs. Opened the City of London’s first (and as yet only) on- site corporate office creche. It opened in 2003 to initially offer all employees with children 20 days free childcare a year which can be booked either in advance or on the day if there is an urgent need.
  • Google. Has four centers specifically for “Googler kids” near its Mountain View headquarters.
  • IBM. Helps to pay for camps during the summer breaks in the US. These camps are offered for several weeks at the beginning and end of the summer. The camps offer many different activities for children who are eight to twelve years old. IBM also offers onsite childcare at some US offices.
  • Johnson & Johnson. Has seven on-site child-care centers in the United States, something the company pioneered back in 1990.
  • Patagonia. Offers employees on-site daycare, and for older children, Patagonia buses them back to the company after school where they can hang out until mum or dad has finished the day. 
  • PNC Financial Services. Provides programs for the children of its employees known as “back- up” care for young people up to age fourteen. Parents may use this service for twenty days a year when schools are not open and they do not have other child care services. PNC has centers for older children with computer areas, places where young people may eat or play games and kitchens where they may cook. There also is a stage where children can create video and theater presentations.
  • Prudential Financial. Parents receive national daycare discounts and 200 hours of subsidized backup care per year, and they save $5,000 a year in pretax dependent-care accounts with a 25% match. Some of the firm’s offices have their own childcare facilities, as well as on-site fitness centers and wellness clinics. 
  • Texas Instruments. Offers on-site camps for kids from three to 13 when school’s out every day from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m

Does your organisation offer innovative solutions for flexibility and working families? What more can be done? Let us know

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