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For some young parents, childcare offers much-needed respite. Whether the time away from their child is used to attend appointments (counselling, Child Protection, rental inspections etc.) socialising or whatever else, it can be invaluable in allowing a young and exhausted parent to regroup.
Childcare is also useful in support with and sleeping routines and provides an additional avenue through which a child’s developmental milestones can be monitored.
Where toddlers are concerned, childcare teaches important social skills through structured activity and stimulation that is crucial for development and key to preparing children for kindergarten.
Childcare and finances
The cost of childcare for each client varies depending on numerous circumstances. Ensure your client is aware of childcare options such as occasional care and family day care, which can be more cost effective as clients are charged only for the hours their child attends as opposed to regular childcare’s fixed daily fee.
Young parents who are studying may be eligible for Jobs, Education and Training Child Care Fee Assistance (JET Childcare Fee Assistance). Encourage your client to meet with a Centrelink social worker to gain a better understanding of the options available.
Where child protection is involved, young parents may be eligible for 13 weeks of at-risk funding childcare. With a letter from child protection, at times childcare may be accessed free of charge.
Making sure a clients application for at-risk funding has been approved is vital prior to childcare being accessed otherwise it is quite possible the young person may incur a debt. The childcare centre will notify whether or not the application has been approved within a few days of application being submitted.
Safeguarding clients against a debt. With a childcare debt attached to their name, the young parent will be unable to enrol their child elsewhere until the debt is cleared.
You may encounter clients who are hesitant to enrol their children in childcare for fear that Child Protection will view it as a failure to cope.
Reassure clients that enlisting childcare’s services isn’t about struggling to manage their responsibilities. Your guidance should aim to normalise childcare (as well as other common features of parenting such as exhaustion, frustration and wanting ‘time out’) and highlight benefits for both parent and child. Reassure your client that Child Protection views childcare favourably.
Surveying childcare options pre-birth
Encourage your client to visit local childcare centres prior to their child being born (it might be helpful to go with them to ensure they’re accessing the correct information, understanding it and asking the necessary questions). Surveying the options at this stage (before the stress and unpredictability of a newborn is introduced), can help to smooth decision making down the line, break down any misconceptions the client might hold about childcare or certain centres, and pave the way for discussions around budgeting for childcare costs and payment methods.
When choosing a childcare centre, young parents can be easily swayed by factors such where their friends’ children attend. Be sure to highlight the importance of geographic convenience if it doesn’t seem to rank high on client’s list of selection criteria. Ease of accessibility is essential so that factors such as weather or public transport difficulties are not to blame for a child’s last-minute non-attendance. If a childcare centre hasn’t been notified of an absence in advance, Centrelink will not pay for those days; rather, clients will be billed and will likely accrue an otherwise avoidable debt.
Relationships with childcare workers
Discuss with your client the importance and benefits of building a relationship with their childcare workers.
With ease, familiarity and open communication, your client will become increasingly comfortable enquiring after their child’s development or asking simple questions regarding how the child slept or fed that day (which can give insight as to what to expect that evening).
Practicing this kind of communication and curiosity will help prepare clients for what is required when their child eventually goes to school. It’s also a great opportunity to practice communication skills.
If possible, you too should be familiar with clients’ childcare workers, as there may come a time – a crisis or a situation in which they’re having difficulties communicating with your client – when you’ll need to assist.
Establishing a relationship with these workers can help to address issues before there is a need for notifications to be made to Child Protection.
Familiarity and regular communication will likely mean that if a childcare worker has serious concerns about a child’s welfare, you will be the person they contact.
Childcare isn’t an option for everyone. The cost of care (or debts accumulated through previous access) may preclude clients from accessing childcare. In these instances, it’s worth discussing with your client whether family members or trusted friends are available to look after the child regularly.
It may be the case that a client’s fractured or strained relationship with a family member (who is otherwise willing and able to care for the child regularly) is the primary obstacle between securing care and respite. Encourage your client to open a dialogue with this person – you might be required to mediate – to work through whatever tensions exist.
A sensitive and slow-paced approach to addressing the cause of the issues is essential.
Explore whether reconciliation is possible and what might be needed to set the wheels in motion (for example, the involvement of other services, counselling etc.)
Newborns or young children can be powerful factors in repairing damaged relationships. Their ability to reunite estranged family members can be quite remarkable.
The challenge and stress of parenting can leave young parents feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. Where it’s clear a client is struggling (perhaps they doesn’t have access to childcare or family supports to call on), respite facilities can arrange temporary care for the child (for example, a monthly overnight stay) to allow the parent a brief but much needed rest. Local foster care centres would be the best place to start in identifying respite facilities in your client’s community.