Casual work and childcare: a conundrum for modern families

Kinderling News & Features

Shevonne Hunt hosts Kinderling Conversation every weekday at 12pm.

I remember after the birth of my daughter Darcy I went through different ‘phases’ when it came to how I thought about work.

The first was a complete rejection of anything resembling a career. I couldn’t imagine spending any time away from the small human in my arms, and I liked being at home.

The second phase involved remembering how much I loved my work, and yearning for some autonomy and regular adult contact.

The third phase was realising that I never really had a choice in the first place; I needed to work for us to keep a roof over our heads.

And the final phase, that still rears its head at intermittent times, is - but what happens to my child when I work?

At this point, you may be thinking I’m a complete dolt. But hear me out.

When I had my kids I was a contractor. Not by choice, but by the nature of my industry. There was no security and no way of predicting what my days and hours would be. My husband is a photographer, with even less predictability in his schedule for when he needed to work.

Like millions of couples with young children we make up what is loosely termed as the ‘casual work force’- only it doesn’t feel casual at all to me. It feels stressful and at times impossible.

Without fixed days of work you can’t know what days you will need your child in care. I don’t know of any services in my area that allow you to change or swap days week to week. And then if you do lock in days, but don’t find the work to pay for it, you’re haemorrhaging money.

On top of that if your child is sick and can’t go to childcare, you still have to pay for the missed day on top of losing a day’s worth of pay.

Who can afford that?

The Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) just released a report about parents wanting more flexible childcare to manage these kinds of work-life clashes.

They surveyed nurses and police working variable or non-standard hours. The Director of AIFS, Anne Hollands, says that formal childcare has not kept up with the way the labour market has changed. They found that workers made their own arrangements outside of formal care to meet their needs, “In some families, parents adapted their work situation to fit the care they had available. This included changing their work hours to part-time, moving jobs to one that does not involve variable shifts or even taking time out of paid employment.”

I am one of three children; we are all coupled, though only two out of the six adults have on going, fixed hours. Between us we have two chefs, an architect, a graphic designer, a radio presenter/producer and a photographer. Combined we have six children under five.  

And that amounts to a lot (I repeat, a lot) of grandparent care and stressful conversations about who needs help and when.

It also means that all of us, at one point or another, has said no to work because we couldn’t find care for our kids, or have chosen part time employment or even considered changing careers.

The casual work force was always touted as being a bonus for families that need flexibility in order to meet the needs of raising children.

But it’s not as simple as that.

‘Casual hours’ often just equates to instability. Instability of income, and therefore uncertainty about what you can afford in terms of childcare. This means instability of hours and therefore uncertainty about when you will need someone to look after your child.

There is no financial support if you or your child is sick, just financial loss.

I know that sometimes being part of the casual work force is a choice, but sometimes it’s not.

Parents who work shift hours, or different fortnightly rosters need access to good quality childcare too.

It’s time our options matched our needs as well.

Also see:

:: Hear Benny Time’s guide to daycare
:: Can a time-poor mum embrace better health with whole foods and mung beans?
:: Why playtime is key for kids’ learning
:: An author’s guide for getting kids into books