Findings from Big Parenting Survey NI call for more support
This year’s “Big Parenting Survey” found that a significant number of parents continue to feel that not enough is done to help them. This survey, conducted over August - October 2019 resulted in 1,358 responses from parents across Northern Ireland. One of the primary aims of the survey was to reflect the lived experience of parents in Northern Ireland in a way that was actionable for service providers and policy makers. It provides a voice for all parents – including those not in receipt of support. The results suggest that parenting in Northern Ireland is challenging, and that those challenges are not decreasing. The issues faced by parents vary from family to family – but relevant findings for the “Childcare for All” coalition reveal that money, work-life balance and childcare cost issues all play a significant role.
An astounding 82% - unchanged from last year’s figure – tell us that parents do not get enough support. A worrying 69% are more worried than hopeful about parenting in the future, which is actually 3% worse than last year. Around a third of all parents do not feel that their hopes for their children are unachievable in Northern Ireland. These figures present a stark picture for policy makers, the third sector and everyone who wishes to see better outcomes for families in Northern Ireland. Money issues were the fifth most pressing issue for parents generally, with around one in ten saying it was the most significant hurdle for them. A higher number of parents with at least one child aged 0 - 7 said that money was a particular worry for them.
Although not asked about specifically, a significant number of parents mentioned childcare as a specific concern. The cost of childcare, the lack of a “free” provision system that exists in other jurisdictions and the conditionality associated with existing supports were mentioned by parents as key barriers. Parents told us the following:
“I have a decent job that I love, but with the cost of childcare and the small amount I get with maternity I have to consider if working is my best option - financially. I should not be in this position.”
“I find it hard trying to balance myself and husband working full time and trying to pay and organise childcare. It is hard when you still have to pay a full day childcare when your child is going to school, just so a place is kept for them during school holidays. Never get a financial break from childcare.”
“I am struggling at present to be the best parent I can be to my 2 daughters while working full time. Childcare is costing me so much that my husband and I are struggling to pay the bills. I definitely think that parents really need support with childcare costs.”
“For me, who can't afford childcare despite having two incomes coming in, the support my mother gives me and my kids is invaluable.”
“I would love to work less and spend more time with my children, but the high cost of even part time childcare means I can't drop hours.”
“When we do work childcare is expensive and it’s difficult to achieve a balance. When we do not work, we are on a poverty level income, and demonized as lazy.”
Beyond simple cost, however, parents outlined concerns regarding the system of childcare provision. They noted that careers in childcare were poorly paid and lacked proper development:
“Having a fulfilling job that pays well is not always achievable; e.g. childcare. So rewarding. Minimum pay.”
In addition, that some provision was not suitable for parents who worked unusual hours:
“Childcare costs are an issue but it's the flexibility of the childcare options that we've found the hardest. We live in Derry and there are plenty of childcare options during the daytime but not after 6pm which is when I work or am commuting home.”
Parents also commented on the difficulties of choosing between more affordable options and registered, high-quality providers:
“I feel the cost of childcare is a big factor in parenting issues. A lot of childminders that are more reasonable priced are unregistered and tend to not do many activities with the children, and the quality crèches that I would want my children to attend are far too expensive for more than one child to attend.”
What the results of this year’s survey show is the high level of understanding amongst parents of the issues with the current system. They understand that childcare is not just disproportionately expensive, but also that provision must be developmental and accessible.
Parents expressed these concerns, as well as many others in their responses to the survey. To read more about the Survey, as well as get more information about the work of Parenting NI, download the full report from our website here.
Chris Eisenstadt is Policy and Research Officer at Parenting NI, the charity that has been dedicated to providing free support for parents across Northern Ireland since 1979.