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13 Jun 2024
by Emma Capper

How employers can complement and enhance childcare support for working parents

Will the government’s new childcare support move the dial for working parents? And what else can employers do to help?

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New rules to help parents with childcare were introduced in April, with eligible working parents of two-year-olds now able to access 15 hours funded childcare support per week. This is being extended in phases, and from September 2025, eligible working parents with a child from nine months old up to school age will be entitled to 30 hours of free childcare a week. 

These hours can be used over 38 weeks of the year or up to 52 weeks if parents use fewer than the total hours per week (if permitted by the nursery). The rules apply to eligible parents in England, but there are similar childcare support schemes in Scotland and Wales.

Although this is welcome news for working parents, there are still some concerns around gaps in provision and top-up fees, especially for those accessing the full allocation of hours during term time. Questions also remain as to whether there will be enough childcare places for everyone that wants one. 

Analysis from the BBC suggests by September 2025 demand for childcare places is likely to have risen 15%, equivalent to more than 100,000 additional children requiring full-time care. For the moment it’s a question of ‘wait and see’ if this extra support goes far enough, but for employers it’s an ideal opportunity to shine a light on what they are doing to support working parents.

There is a growing need for employers to adapt and create flexible cultures and policies to meet the needs of parents. This is not only the right thing to do from a moral and ethical standpoint, but also makes good business sense. By supporting working parents, companies can attract and retain top talent, enhance employee engagement and productivity, and build a positive corporate culture. 

Here are seven ways that employers can support working parents:

1. Offer flexibility in working hours

Recognise one size does not fit all when it comes to working hours. Offering flexible working arrangements and creative scheduling options such as split days or condensed work weeks will be of huge value to working parents. Focus on outcomes rather than hours worked, allowing employees to manage their time effectively while fulfilling their responsibilities.

Scheduling meetings in advance so that childcare arrangements can be made, and respecting diaries is important for flexible working to be successful, as is line management training, especially for those that aren’t parents and may not be sympathetic to the challenges they face.

2. Create parent-friendly HR policies

Reviewing and updating HR policies to make them more parent-friendly is important. Employers could consider offering emergency care days or ‘duvet days’ to provide parents with additional flexibility during unforeseen circumstances or emergencies. Also, they could enhance parental leave policies to ensure that parents receive adequate support during maternity and paternity and upon returning to work.

3. Engage with working parents

Speaking to parents is vital to understand their challenges, so that employers can respond and offer targeted support. Don’t just assume to know what they need. One way to do this is to create parental resource groups or forums, where parents can share their experiences and provide feedback on existing policies and initiatives. Use this feedback to inform decision-making and continuously improve support for working parents.

4. Provide access to paid childcare 

Emergencies can arise, requiring immediate childcare. Employers could consider providing access to paid childcare services to alleviate the stress of having to make last-minute childcare arrangements in an emergency. 

5. Offer family-friendly wellbeing initiatives

Employers need to check if their wellbeing initiatives are inclusive for families and working parents. A good option is to introduce a wellbeing fund to enable employees to use their allocation as they see fit. This can be more beneficial and tailored than offering gym membership, massage services or nutrition classes to all. Working parents may prefer to use it to address specific needs, such as childcare support, mental health resources, or other family-related expenses.

6. Parent-specific advice and guidance

Working parents could be given access to advice and guidance to help navigate the challenges of balancing work and family life, which could be particularly helpful to first-time parents. This could be advice on preparing to return to work after maternity leave or finding the best childcare options in their area. 

7. Provide onsite childcare facilities

Finally, employers could consider investing in onsite childcare facilities to provide convenient and reliable childcare options for working parents. Also, ensuring that private spaces are available for women who need to express milk while at work can be a valuable measure.

Speak to working parents

We recommend that employers review their policies and make sure they are speaking to working parents. Offering flexibility as well as listening to what parents need and the challenges they face is key. This will help inform decisions on the additional support working parents will value to help them thrive both personally and professionally.

Visit Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing for more information. 

In partnership with Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing

Howden provides insurance broking, risk management and claims consulting services, globally. We work with clients of all sizes to provide dedicated employee benefits & wellbeing consultancy.

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