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Single parents and child care

Published on Monday, 05 December 2016
Last updated on Thursday, 02 December 2021

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Halfway through 2021, the Australian Bureau of Statistics counted 1.1 million single parent families, equating to 15 per cent of all Australian families. Single parent families are the fastest growing type of family, and according to the ABS, this makes up 15 per cent of all Australian families.

Single parent families face many of the challenges of two parent families but additional issues are common such as increased financial pressure, time constraints and increased stress, anxiety and guilt surrounding parenting.

Following a separation, most newly single parents have no choice to stay at home, as they assume the role of breadwinner. For parents already back at work and using care this may be less of a challenge than for parents who haven't yet returned to work.

The key requirement for many single parent families looking for care is flexibility, and here are some options to choose from:

Child Care Centres represent a great option if your work hours are fairly predictable and you can guarantee that you'll be able to pick up and drop off within the designated hours. However, if work shifts have an unpredictable schedule you may need to consider a more flexible type of care which are listed below.

Family day care is early childhood education and care for your child in a qualified provider's home. FDC is often more affordable and more family-focused than child care centres. As care is offered in the carer's home there is often a high degree of flexibility with some providers offering extended hours, over night and even weekend care.

Nannies and babysitters offer flexible care which could be used in combination with child care centres or family day care to fill in the gaps around operating hours. However, this can be expensive, especially when used casually and they are not eligible for the Child Care Subsidy.  Nannies may attract the CCS if they're a registered provider.

Au pairs are a great option if you have space to accommodate them. It's important to remember that au pairs are not formally trained and should not be left in sole charge of babies under 12 months old. Because they live in, au pairs can be a huge help with out of hours activities such as shopping and medical appointments as well as providing a better means of juggling more than one child's extracurricular activities.

Nanny share is a more affordable way to have a nanny because it involves sharing the cost and care with another family.  You could:

  • Ask friends, neighbours and parents in local playgroups if they are interested in sharing a nanny.
  • Ask other parents at your workplace about nanny sharing. At some workplaces, there may be resources to help you find child care, including nanny sharing.
  • Use our nanny search to find a nanny in your local area or contact an agency who provides nanny sharing services.

If you decide to DIY ensure you vet the nannies for qualifications, references and police checks.

In home care is government funded care which is available to eligible people who require more flexible care than that offered by mainstream child care providers. If you or your child have an illness or disability, or live in rural or remote areas and/or work non-standard hours, you may be eligible so it's definitely worth exploring.

Parent sharing is great for after school and child care pick-ups. If you only work part time or can be more flexible on some days than others, it's worth discussing with other parents in your child care centre, pre-school or school, who either work part-time themselves or also have flexibility. If you can work out your days across the week, so that all kids are covered for early pick-ups between you, it can be a very sociable, cheap and rewarding way to make sure you have general and emergency child care covered.

Financial Government support is available to help sole parents with the cost of child care. Depending on your circumstances you may be eligible for:

The Right to Request Flexible Work Arrangements

Juggling work and family responsibilities is complicated enough in two parent families, and even more so for sole parents. If you are struggling to balance out the competing pressures in your life you could talk to your employer about flexible work options.

The Fair Work Act 2009 provides employees within the national workplace relations system the right to request to work flexibly. To be eligible, you must have worked for your employer on a full or part time basis for 12 months or longer, and long term casuals may also be eligible to apply.

Popular flexible work arrangements include:

  • Changing start and finish times to coincide with school drop off/pick up
  • Part time work or job share
  • Working longer hours over fewer days
  • Work from home
  • Working additional hours to compensate for time off

Parents of school age children or younger are eligible to apply and all employers must seriously consider a request for flexible work arrangements.

Employers can refuse the request on reasonable business grounds, such as it would be too costly for them or there is no capacity to change the arrangements of other employees to meet the request, and the outcome of the request must be responded to in writing within 21 days of the request first being made.

An increasing number of organisations are becoming aware of the benefits of implementing measures to enable employees to balance their work and family commitments. Documented benefits include improved staff retention, increased productivity, lower absenteeism, improved employee satisfaction and loyalty and for organisations, these variables mean an improvement in the bottom line in terms of increased profits and decreased costs.

For these reasons it is worth talking to your employer about working flexibly. Chances are there are many other people within your organisation who have been considering it and as the old saying goes, it doesn't hurt to ask!

For lots of helpful information, including tips on how to write a letter to your employer to request flexible work arrangements, make sure you read Fair Work Ombudsman's Best Practice Guide on The Right to Request Flexible Work Arrangements.

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