August 3, 2021
It is meant to be the most wonderful time of the year, but the weeks over the Christmas school holidays often prove to be a logistical nightmare for those among us who are working parents.
Having to fill a five or six-week block of childcare, depending on where your child goes to school, is a juggling act parents across the country participate in.
"For weeks at a time children are off and parents feel that pressure to work through how they are going to keep their work commitments going and look after their children as well," Emma Walsh, CEO of Parents at Work, said.
But accessing vacation care — also known as school holiday care — can be easier said than done, as working mum-of-three Jennifer Ramsay has experienced.
"We often think we need to have our school holiday plans in place by about week five each term so that we can get a booking or so the girls can get into something that they'd like to do," she explained.
Ms Ramsay said, even then, in order to fill the long block her family had to be creative.
"So we do a combination of sports activities, vacation care, grandparents looking after the children, sometimes I work from home, and then, of course, we take a bit of leave as well."
A 2007 paper by the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) found that finding care for school-aged children during school holidays was even more difficult than finding care for toddlers and babies.
"With most parents being able to access four weeks of annual leave, there is already a shortfall in terms of the parents' capacity to care for children during the school holidays, which is, of course, substantially exacerbated in sole parent families," the paper stated.
Later, in 2013, a report by the Male Champions of Change collaboration stated that "many parents say they can manage the day-to-day juggle, but reconciling 12 weeks of school holidays per year with four weeks of annual leave forces many — often women — out of the workforce, or to reduced roles."
Ms Ramsay agreed that the difference in time off for children and adults just did not add up.
"I have four weeks' leave a year and my children have 12 weeks of school holidays a year," she said.
What are the alternatives?
The AHRC paper suggested 'purchased leave' as an option for some salaried workers, "which can be used to cover care for children in holiday periods".
But it conceded that purchased leave was not widely available and was not a solution to the discrepancy between school terms and standard working hours.
"Many children and parents enjoy spending school holiday time together, but for many families restrictions on leave availability mean that this is not an option," the paper stated.
Instead, some companies — like Melbourne-based prop-tech company PEXA — have decided to offer their own solutions.
"PEXA has a school holiday program that is run in-house, and we partner with a company called KidsCo to run the program," PEXA's Linda Hibberd said.
"Children can attend one day, or they can attend every day of the school holidays. It is fully funded by PEXA and employees make a donation to the Alannah and Madeleine Foundation for their children's attendance."
Ms Hibberd said the company's main motivation for offering the program was to support employees during what could be a logistically stressful time.
"The program really is an extension of our culture," Ms Hibberd said.
"We understand that when you go home work doesn't stop, and when you're at work, home doesn't stop, and so this is a way that we bring both parts of our lives closer together."
Ms Hibbard said having children at the office was also great for staff morale.
"The program creates a lot of joy and fun on the floor," she said.
"It's fantastic to see the kids and the parents and all of our employees having a table tennis tournament or playing basketball or having lunch together in our plaza area."
"That they trust employees and offer flexibility so that we can manage full lives that involve work and family.”
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