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“Very challenging and the most stressful time of my life” – childcare challenges in 2020

Employers For Childcare has been conducting the Northern Ireland Childcare Survey for 11 years now. But this year was different than any other, parents were faced with a childcare jigsaw – trying to juggle work, childcare and home-schooling, while providers had to learn new ways of working within strict government regulations. And what we saw was the realities of the challenges facing parents and the childcare sector painfully exposed by the pandemic.


We carried out two surveys and gathered the views of thousands of parents and hundreds of childcare providers:

· Prior to the pandemic: Northern Ireland Childcare Survey with parents and childcare providers

· During the pandemic: Follow up survey with parents focused on access to childcare during Covid-19 and how this impacted their ability to work.


Our research found that families were struggling to access and afford the childcare they need, and childcare providers were facing rising costs and struggling to break even. We cannot emphasise enough how our research shows that these challenges have been amplified by the pandemic but they have not been created by it. Even prior to Covid-19, 72% of providers they were either making a loss or just breaking even. This is not sustainable and urgent action is needed.


Our key findings show:


· The average cost of a full-time childcare place in Northern Ireland is £169 per week

· One third of parents said childcare is their largest monthly outgoing, exceeding their mortgage or rent payment

· 71% of providers reported an increase in their overall expenditure, compared to just 18% who reported an increase in their income


During the initial months of the pandemic:

· Three quarters of parents said they were not able to access any childcare for some or all of the time

· One in five parents had to use annual or unpaid leave to manage childcare, while over a quarter were working outside of normal hours – early in the morning or late at night, to provide childcare during the day

· In 78% of families, at least one parent had to manage childcare responsibilities while working

· 70% of parents who have a child with a disability said if their childcare provider temporarily closed due to Covid-19, they would have no access to childcare.


Here’s some of what we heard throughout our research. Although this is only a very small snapshot, the powerful language used here shows how much our childcare sector is valued and also how we need to ensure it can work for both families and providers.

“Covid-19 has brought into very sharp focus just how much we rely on those who look after our children and the massive benefit they have provided to them.”

“Nurseries and childcare are critical to parents. They play such a vital role in allowing parents to work… Please do not let the schools and childcare settings close again!”

“There is no money for savings or emergencies. We both earn a good wage but childcare cripples our finances.”

“The stress was horrendous due to the unpredictable situation- COVID-19, no childcare and working full time from home. Additionally home school! Most stressful time.”

“Covid-19 has highlighted the value and importance of affordable reliable and flexible childcare for working families.”


Greater help and support is urgently needed


One overarching theme from our research was the strong consensus that the Northern Ireland Executive needs to take robust action urgently to support families and the childcare sector, particularly in the recovery from Covid-19. While funding allocated to the sector is massively welcomed, this research reinforces the importance of further long-term financial support to break the ongoing cycle of families struggling to afford childcare they need and providers struggling to deliver sustainable childcare.


If there is one silver lining of this pandemic, we hope it shines a light on the urgent need to develop and implement a Childcare Strategy – we remain the only UK region without one and we have waited long enough.


To read the full report or Executive Summary, please visit our website.


Thanks to everyone to responded to our survey!


Employers For Childcare is a social enterprise and registered charity. We work for and with parents, employers and childcare providers across the UK.

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