Emerging Emergency Opportunity
Fulham-based My Family Care specialises in providing work and family solutions for employers. As the company’s customer network expands rapidly, it is on the lookout for more childminders to satisfy them.
“Our clients are the employers,” says Oliver Daniels, who is operations manager at My Family Care and oversees the overall service provision from within the business development team for the UK and Ireland. “Our service aims to give a viable and affordable alternative to an employer faced with the prospect of losing one of their staff for days on end due to unforeseen childcare issues.”
My Family Care’s customer base includes some of the largest private sector employers in the UK and Ireland, and when you multiply the issue over a workforce of thousands, the collective potential benefit of ensuring parents are able to come to work, in terms of continuity and productivity in particular, are crystal clear.
“Typically, employers will provide their employees an average of 6-10 sessions of emergency childcare a year to cover ‘care breakdown’, says Oliver. “The reasons the days get used are varied; often it will be because the regular childcarer or the family support network are just not available, but it could be down to work travel or something as simple as they forgot an inset day at school. More parents are using blended childcare these days too, so it might be that just one part of the care falls down on a given day.
“People move around a lot more than they used to and therefore the traditional family support networks are not in place so often for parents, particularly if they have moved to the country from overseas. If their care breaks down, they would have no choice but to take time off work and when you calculate this across an entire workforce, it can have a big impact on productivity and ultimately the viability of a business,” says Oliver.
“Absenteeism is one thing, but the other side of that, I always say, is ‘presentee-ism’ – an employee who is stressed at work because they are worried about their childcare issues is not going to be doing their job as well, so if an employer can put their mind at rest then it’s a win-win.
“A lot of the employers we talk to have issues when it comes to female talent retention – it’s a really big deal at the moment. Here too, emergency childcare can be a very powerful and effective tool, as it illustrates to anyone who has access to it that the business is looking after them and they will have back-up care whenever they need it.”
My Family Childcare provides each customer with regular feedback on how much of their allowance is being used, who is using it and for what reasons. With each passing year, the business is building a data bank, as well as the experience, to know the regular patterns and spot anomalies. “They know that for each individual employee, there may be one year when they use none of those days and another where they use them all – it’s all down to circumstance,” Oliver says.
So how can this benefit childminders? He explains: “One of the biggest challenges for a childminder is finding a sustainable business model. They may be able to look after six kids but they only have two, or they may be able to work more hours but they don’t have the children to look after. That’s where being on our register can be very helpful; childminders can add another string to their bow and a profitable add-on to their existing business.
“To me, childminders have often been treated as the poor relation of the early-years sector, with nannies and nurseries seen as in some way superior. We need to service a broad network with a variety of needs so we have all three elements of childcare within our system, but to us childminders are absolutely crucial if we are to provide the consistency and flexibility our customers require. When the need arises, we have to have the solution in place.
“Childminders tend to be more entrepreneurial in our experience and better set-up to provide emergency childcare. It can be tougher for a nursery manager to respond to requests to take a child they have never seen before, whether that is a last-minute request or made some time in advance. A childminder is self-employed and mostly they will have that little bit of extra capacity that allows them to be flexible enough to offer the solution the parent/employee is looking for.”
Oliver joined the business in 2011 and since then the service has seen “almost stratospheric” growth, he says. “We have gone from providing 60,000 hours of emergency care in the first year I was here to almost 10 times that amount in 2018. That strong, continuous growth has been driven by social and demographic changes. Among other factors, the economy has improved, the way we live has changed, no-one really works 9-5 anymore, for instance and there is more business travel. A combination of all of those things has created a climate in which services like ours have become so much more vital.
“There are still millions of working parents in the UK who don’t have access to emergency childcare, so I guess the sky’s the limit,” says Oliver. “To service that demand, we need childminders to register with us. At the moment, we have around 2,000. They are spread around the country. The demand for the service has been higher until now in London and the South East – around 70% of the total, so there have been more opportunities for childminders in this region, but our coverage of the whole country is increasing, as is our customer base.
“We are very good therefore at the emergency childcare provision in London, because it's less challenging to service demand when you know it is there. A number of our blue chip customers are opening regional offices and they are all forward-thinking enough to expand their use of our service too. We want to be able to offer that same level of service to towns and cities around the country and also to rural villages. We believe we are going to need 10,000 childminders within the next few years. We would love to hear from anyone who would like to be part of this expansion.”
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