Wednesday 29 January 2020

One size doesn't fit all with childcare

Government needs to open its eyes to the pressures and challenges of raising a family and appreciate everyone who plays a part

Invaluable: Maria Scanlon with son Christofer, who thrived while being cared for by his grandparents Photo: Tony Gavin
Invaluable: Maria Scanlon with son Christofer, who thrived while being cared for by his grandparents Photo: Tony Gavin

Maria Scanlon

As an educated, confident, single parent of a strapping 12-year-old, I was very pleased to read Sarah Carey's article in this newspaper last week outlining some of the foreseeable teething issues with Children's Minister Katherine Zappone's childcare grant.

The article put some much-needed perspective on the short-sightedness that is evident in certain government policies and subsidies that don't always address what is the best solution for each child or care-giver.

Depending on individual circumstances, as well as the insurmountable costs of getting to work - Leap Cards, parking fines (yes it happens to the best of us!), lunch (if you forget to make your own sandwiches at 6am) and rising fuel costs to drive your child to granny/childcare/friend - there is also the stress of commuter traffic and the challenge of trying to find a parking space. Or the far-from-blissful experience of being on a crowded early morning Dart or bus. These are all challenges that people like me going to work have to face.

The term "stay-at-home parent" seems to be misconstrued in its interpretation by Ms Zappone as she implies that parents need to get back to the workforce. What does she think parents do all day? Stay-at-home parents contribute to society by doing their best at the sometimes arduous task of minding one child or several. Even if a parent doesn't venture beyond the threshold of the front door, Ms Zappone should bear in mind that all parents are fundamental in bringing up the next generation.

I myself worked part-time and stayed in education perhaps longer than society deemed it acceptable. That didn't prevent me from pursuing what I felt was right for me, my son and society. In the end, I trained in a discipline that I have used in education and elderly care settings to improve the physical, emotional, medical, psychological and spiritual well-being of others.

I remember paying €925 a month for childcare at a well-run montessori with lovely staff. However, I realised grandad was more than willing to care for my then three-year-old; to teach him carpentry, to walk by the river, to tell him stories, to take things apart just to put them back together, to learn about nature, grow potatoes, clear out drains and gutters and learn how to use a hex key. Granny taught him knitting, how to bake bread and cakes, gardening, praying, crocheting, composting, kindness and patience.

Believe me, those skills are worth way more than the €925 a month I paid to the childcare institution. But not everyone has the luxury of grandparents, and that needs to be taken into account.

My dad accepted a small amount of money each week in return for minding my son because he knew I wanted to show my acknowledgment of his support of me finishing my education. The bond that grew between my son and his grandparents has been long-lasting. Maybe that's why relatives and grandparents are hesitant about being recompensed for childcare; maybe they'll feel it puts a price on that bond. I wonder if perhaps they should be encouraged to accept financial recompense as a symbol of appreciation for the vital role they play.

Maybe the childcare grant should at least give the option to stay-at-home parents, grandparents or relatives to avail of a subsidy. The sisters, brothers, cousins or friends that are often called upon to mind kids at the drop of a hat need to be taken into account, because in supportive family units there is an unwritten understanding that we all stick together when it really counts (even if we don't always see eye to eye). We know that childcare and transport costs are crippling and we are the workers on the ground and we all matter.

At the end of the day, whatever way that allows a child to thrive should be paramount, and if parents choose to go to work by choice or to stay at home to mind their child everything has a monetary, emotional, developmental, psychological and spiritual cost that I don't believe Ms Zappone has factored into the childcare subsidy.

Wouldn't it be great if all care-givers' efforts on the ground were recognised and appreciated by the Government and by society? After all, we are the 'Force' and we exist.

Sunday Independent

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