As an owner or provider in a childcare setting, you know it is in everyone's interest to make sure parents can pay their childcare fees on time. No facility can run without a steady income. When families begin to struggle financially, it can not only impact their own wellbeing, but the stability of their child's placement at your facility.
To prevent this from happening, there are certain signs you can look out for and ways you can help families in difficulty meet the costs of childcare.
Life can be expensive. The average family spends £671 per week (£2,907 a month) to cover the average price of living expenses, including a home, food, clothes and transport. This can fluctuate based on many factors, including unexpected life events, economic downturns or a rise in household bills. Consequently, bills are paid late, rent goes into arrears, and food might not make it to the table.
It's important that childcare practitioners know if a family is having financial difficulty, not just because it can impact nursery payments but because it can impact the welfare of the child.
The problem is, not everyone is forthcoming about having financial problems. Many people feel embarrassed or ashamed if they suddenly can't afford certain things they used to buy or if they get behind with the rent or childcare bills.
Facing financial difficulty can also trigger mental health problems. A survey shows in the past month, one in ten felt hopeless about financial circumstances, more than one-third felt anxious, and almost three in ten feeling stressed.
This means that families in financial difficulty not only have practical bill payment worries but a greater chance of developing mental illness and associated health and social problems. But there are things you can do to assist struggling families. When working with children, there are some common signs you can look for that could indicate a family is in financial hardship. You can then reach out and take measures to help the family. This allows them to find a way forward with your support.
Neglect is sometimes deliberate. But often, it is a consequence of a family being in a difficult personal situation.
Half a million children experience neglect every year in the UK. This is not an uncommon issue and something every childcare practitioner will come across at some point in their career. According to national safeguarding information, common signs of neglect are:
- absences from nursery or school clubs
- wrong clothing (e.g. clothes are too small)
- Clothes are consistently dirty or smelly
- The child is hungry
- Poor hygiene
- Health problems, including anaemia, low or high BMI, skin issues.
- Developmental problems, including poor language or social skills
- Frequent and untreated nappy rash in infants
- Changes in behaviour
- Changes in eating habits
and many more…
All professional childcare practitioners will need to follow safeguarding protocol to complete the necessary checks if they think a child is being neglected.
It's also worth speaking to the parents about what they think might be the cause of any of the above issues. For example, if a child is constantly in clothes that are too small, is this due to financial difficulty?
Children are surprisingly perceptive. If a parent loses their job, has to move house, or is just worried about paying the bills, a child can perceive this problem even if they aren't told directly.
If a child mentions that the family is struggling, it is always worth following up with the parents to double-check everything is ok. For example, a child might mention to their teacher that the cost of living went up and Mum missed a bill, which could prompt the teacher to make a friendly call to the parents offering support.
Many families end up in court following a divorce or childcare dispute. Family court in the UK is expensive, stressful and can last years. Families in court often have large legal bills to pay. With cuts to legal aid, it near impossible to get financial assistance.
If you know of a family in the court process, you might be able to give them support, whether it be emotional, practical or financial.
The cost of childcare in the UK can be challenging to meet, especially if a family isn't entitled to financial help. If a family that were once frequent and reliable payers, suddenly begin missing childcare payments, this could be a sign that something has changed at home.
Missed fees can sometimes be an oversight, but more often than not, it is a sign that the family is struggling.
It's important for them and for you and your early years setting to reach out and try to get to the root cause of the problem. This could be as simple as a friendly phone call or asking the family for a meeting.
Here's what you can do:
If you suspect a family are having financial problems, the first step is to have a meeting. Talking about money can be challenging and awkward. Many families may think they're going to be in trouble if you bring up the issue of missed payments. It's important to be open, positive, welcoming and provide a safe space for discussion.
You can ask open questions about what's happening at home and any changes the family have gone through. The family might be forthcoming and happy to talk about it. They may even be relieved that you've mentioned the issue first.
Remember that some families might have cultural or religious factors that impact how they talk about money. In these circumstances, matters should be handled sensitively and respectfully.
Another option is to signpost families elsewhere for help. There's no shortage of help for families in difficulty. As an approved childcare practitioner, you might have access to information that the family simply don't know about. You could signpost to financial charities, relationship counsellors, return to work helplines, debt helplines, single parent groups or domestic abuse charities.
National (UK) resources include:
1. Step Change - https://www.stepchange.org - 0800 138 1111 - a national debt charity
2. Gov.UK - https://www.gov.uk/browse/benefits/families - a list of benefits and grants for families
3. Family Fund - https://www.familyfund.org.uk - 01904 550055 - grants for families with disabled or seriously ill children
4. Turn To Us Benefits Calculator - https://benefits-calculator.turn2us.org.uk - a calculator that allows families to see how much they are entitled to.
Some families are eligible for 30 hours of free childcare. This means that their children can attend full-time nursery while their parents work. There may also be holiday childcare entitlements, national insurance and universal credit options, maternity allowance, or tax-free childcare.
Some parents don't realise they are entitled to financial help. Sharing this knowledge can make all the difference. Try to keep up to date with any benefit changes as they occur. You can then proactively communicate this information with the families you think could be affected.
You might be aware of local grants or private grants associated with your childcare facility that could benefit the family. For example, there might be a voucher scheme they can be signed up to. Or they could be eligible to receive a discount on childcare. You should always ask the family in advance if they are comfortable with this.
Families in a temporary financial struggle might not need referring to charities or signing up to grants. Instead, they could benefit from a short-term payment plan to clear the childcare arrears. Managing payment plans requires reliable software that allows you to track and manage your payments in one place. Find out more about how you can manage your childcare fees with Cheqdin.
Sometimes, families are reluctant to ask for help. As mentioned already, talking about money can be tough. Sometimes there can be cultural or religious barriers to these discussions, too.
Putting literature up in your childcare setting is a great idea because it educates families without calling them into meetings. Families can become aware of financial help available via a poster, leaflet or email newsletter and take action before reaching a crisis point.
Some families struggle with budgeting. They might be extremely grateful for budgeting advice, tips and resources. Some communities offer budgeting groups or workshops.
If you know of one, you can refer a family to the workshop or put literature about the workshop up in your nursery. You could also create a free budgeting resource for families to download from your website. This could include a budgeting checklist, an interactive planner and cooking on-a-budget tips.
A proactive approach to managing childcare costs is the best way to stay on top of your business. This way, you ensure the children who attend are well cared for. By spotting the signs of financial difficulty and reaching out early, you can help families, and working parents manage their childcare bills.
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