The High Price of the Summer Holidays

I find myself in a minority of mums most of the time when we talk about the school Summer Holidays. I LOVE THEM! This is possibly because my work is term time based so when the kids break up my work load drops. However it doesn’t go away entirely, but the childcare does. This means that I have to get up earlier (I’m writing this at 5:45am for example whilst they still sleep) and I pretty much work until 10pm every night. But what I get in return is to spend the whole day with my girls. My wonderful, rested, happy girls. And no school run – this in itself is worth the early starts.

I’ve created this set up for myself by starting my own business and ensuring that as it grows the girls can still be at the centre of my life. For now it’s working. Yet there are so many career mums and dads out there who don’t have anything like the flexibility that I have, especially in corporate land. Sometimes there is no getting round it – you just have to be in an office. Those parents who rely on school as a major source of childcare often find themselves at a loss in the summer. Six weeks is a long time. They can take a bit of holiday but they can’t cover it all and if you don’t have any family locally to help with the burden of childcare then you need deep pockets.

Camp is £40 a day per child in my neck of the woods. That’s an eyewatering £1,200 per child for full time camp. Most families have 2 or 3 children. To put that into annual salary terms, for your wage to cover two children in summer camp you need to earn at least £24K a year. That’s £3K under the national average salary – not much left over for food in the month of August!

I could cut and splice these figures all day, but to add the human story is possibly more powerful. What if you’re a single parent on the national average wage? What if only one of you can work and the other is disabled and can’t cope with the children? What if you both work but your combined wages don’t reach that of the national average salary. The number of people who fall into each of these categories run into the hundreds of thousands at least.

How do they ensure their children are taken care of during the summer holidays?

We each find our way, muddling through. I hate having to ask for help now. After nearly 8 years of it I just feel bad. What I want is for people to pro-actively turn to me and say “How can I help. Let me take the kids. I will be here at this time and take them for three hours. You type like mad whilst I’m out with them” but they don’t! The constant asking is a drain and only adds to my ‘mum guilt’.

As the kids get older, they can be left. Problem solved on that day. But when is that day? How old does a child have to be before you leave them?

There is no law on this. In my opinion there should be but there isn’t. The law simply says that a child shouldn’t be left at home alone if they are at risk. However the courts will rarely find that a child under the age of 12 is mature enough to cope in an emergency situation and so would consider that child had been placed at risk.

So why not just write a law that says you can’t leave your child under the age of 12? They don’t have to enforce it; a compassionate clause could be written in where the family are struggling, but it would answer a great big question for a great number of parents. So many families won’t know they are leaving themselves open to prosecution and, more importantly, it would add doubt to their decision to leave a child alone, in many cases stopping it from happening.

The courts may argue that they want to have flexibility to judge each case on it’s own merit, but they are only seeing the tip of the iceburg; the children for whom something went wrong. There are countless other children out there being left alone and they will be suffering the effects of that. Kids need an adult. They might say they don’t, but they do. The consequences of neglect are well documented – that’s why it’s categorised as child abuse and anybody found guilty of placing a child at risk through neglect can be fined or even imprisoned. A law would protect the countless children that the courts don’t see.

You might think this kind of abuse is the purvue of the lower social classes but my experience tells me that ‘middle class abuse’ falls right into this category. Don’t be fooled by the fancy car on the drive. To earn that car, and pay for the other stuff, there are grown-ups in the house prioritising the earning of cash – sometimes over kids.

The lovely people over at the NSPCC have written some guidelines for parents ahead of the summer holidays to help them make decisions about leaving their kids alone. They don’t agree with me on the law! We’ll have to agree to disagree there but their advice is amazing and to the point. Nice big font – takes a minute to read.

They also have a handy checklist of questions you can ask yourself or your child to decide if they are ready to be left on their own.

  • Does your child seem to be responsible and mature for their age and always do what you tell him or her?
  • Would they be able to fix themselves something to eat and drink and would you be happy with them using the cooker or microwave?
  • Can you imagine how they’d cope in an emergency like a power cut or a flooded bathroom?
  • Would they know what to do if the phone rang or someone came to the door?
  • Would they know how to contact you or another family member or friend if they needed to?  Do they have these contact numbers to hand?
  • How would they feel about being left alone – pleased to be given the responsibility or scared by the thought or it?

As I wrote this check list my 7 year old got up.  I’m not leaving her on her own of course but thought I’d ask the questions anyway.  She told me she’d be terrified to be left on her own in the house in case I locked her in!  When I asked her what would she do if she were home alone and the bathroom flooded she said “I’d jump out of the window.”  Not ready yet unsurprisingly.  Made me laugh though!

Click Here to read it the full thing.

For those of you in financial dire straights, I wish you luck. I had to scrape around like crazy down the back of the sofa for spare change and go without wine for a weekend to pay for summer camp this year. My kids are going 1 day a week. That’s a cool £400 that I had to come up with and pay in full with 3 days notice. That said, I have the security of a marriage to fall back on if I need it. I don’t consider myself an unfortunate soul by any stretch of the imagination. Quite the opposite infact.

For those of you struggling with this question, don’t struggle. Let the NSPCC help you make the choice that’s right for you and yours. An informed decision that you all agree on is the right decision. I’m talking myself out of that law now! Perhaps the NSPCC are right after all. Don’t tell them I said that. There’ll be no living with them after this!

 

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SARAH CANTRILL is a woman on a mission to inspire every young child to become a reader for pleasure.  She is the Artistic Director & Founder of STORY STORKS, a social enterprise that delivers interactive story workshops to early years children and their grown ups, that help kids to fall in love with stories and develop their early language skills meaning that they have an easier time of learning to read when the time is right. She is also passionate about helping and supporting parents through the early years and lobbying for a better understanding of them and the issues they present.  Occasionally she also speaks up for the kids too!

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