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Summer childcare crisis

HELP: Children and volunteers at the Hanwell SDA Church Holiday Bible School

CHILDCARE IS one of the greatest challenge highlighted by working parents, and the gap in school-based provisions during the summer holidays can be a source of stress for cash-strapped families.

Parents could end up paying hundreds of pounds per month per child for camps and day programmes to keep their children occupied during the school hours.

Dr Caroline Wolhuter, from housing and social care organisation Accord Group, which has a free meals and activities programme for children from low-income families, earlier this year called for a “wider discussion about the value of summer holiday support for families vulnerable to debt, isolation, poor nutrition and inadequate school readiness.”

Dianne Larrington, who runs a government subsidised sports programme for 8-13 year-olds, said while there is currently a lot of targeted provision for those in areas where children might be more at risk of getting involved in crime and antisocial behaviour, more should be done to help working parents during the holidays.

Larrington, whose programme Edutain costs £1 per day, told The Voice: “Ideally the government should be looking to try to subsidise the support that is already out there, through measures such as match-funding. This will enable the childcare provider to drop their prices and parents, especially those who have the challenge of looking for care for more than one child, will be better able to access those provisions.”

Larrington’s advice to struggling parents is to “be creative.”

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She said: “Go to the local library, check on your council’s website to see what is available. I’ve seen some of the parents using what I call ‘patchwork care’, to get through the summer break.

“That is, they will drop their child off at a friend or relative in the morning, and get them to carry the child to a scheme like ours, then have another friend or relative pick them up. The problem is, of course, not everyone is lucky enough to have family and friends they can trust with their kids.”

Denese Christopher, who runs a Holiday Bible School in Hanwell SDA Church, says local churches need to see it as their responsibility to help struggling parents.

The consultant and mother-of-two said: “All the helpers in our programme are volunteers. In addition to retirees and teachers on school holidays, we have professionals who take time off work to come to support us.”

She added: “We do it because we recognise that church has to be more than just people coming to a building to worship once a week. We also have a responsibility to address the everyday needs of our members and those in the wider community.”

At £2.50 per child per day, Christopher said the provision “is a great relief for struggling parents - especially those in single parent families.”

However, she pointed out that “with limited resources we can only offer this service for one week in the summer holidays.”

Christopher called for a concerted effort from churches to address the problem.

“You have many different churches, even within denominations, doing different things. For example one of our other churches, not too far away is running a bible school at the same time. If we can pool resources maybe we can have the provision for longer.”

Nurse and parent-of-three, Janice Woghiren, says the Holiday Bible School is a “crucial part” of her children’s summer holiday.

She said: “With around 13 weeks of holiday, counting in term time breaks, most working parents are unable to get enough time off work to cover school breaks, so it is really important to have affordable options.

“For me, having a provision from a community body, like my church, run by people who I know and trust is a great help.”

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