For many UK families returning to a full-time work routine after having children can end up being an impossible financial and mental struggle, with the cost of childcare often being the deciding factor.
We spoke to Rachel Carrell and one of the families using her nanny-sharing company, Koru Kids, about how the service is enabling them to juggle the work-home balance.
UK Childcare - the costs at a glance
The staggeringly high costs of childcare in the United Kingdom are well-documented. The 2016 OECD Society at a Glance report showed our childcare costs to be three times higher than other in the Western World.
Two years on, it appears not much has changed. A study in early 2018 re-confirmed that it costs the average couple working full-time in England 55 per cent of their total average earnings to have two nursery aged children in full-time day care.
That’s almost 20 per cent higher than the next most expensive country down the list, (New Zealand), and more than a monthly mortgage repayment for most.
In such a state of affairs it’s hardly surprising that, for many new mothers and fathers, the thought of pursuing the career of their dreams falls by the wayside when coupled with the all-important priority of raising a family.
Getting to the heart of the issue
It’s an issue that’s close to the heart of Rachel Carrell, mother of two and founder of fast-growing nanny-sharing service Koru Kids.
Returning to work after having her first child is something she says was incredibly tough. As a New Zealand ex-pat she says having no family support network made the prospect doubly daunting.
"It’s bewildering. You feel quite alone and it’s a very steep learning curve when you’re trying to find childcare."
Upon returning to work in the health sector after her first child, she found the conversation of childcare coming up repeatedly.
"It was very obvious to me that I could contribute to this problem and the solution. So, I quit my job and founded Koru Kids. We want to solve all the problems we’re but trying to tackle them one at a time.
"I kept hearing horror stories from friends who weren't happy with their choices but felt powerless to change them. I also saw lots of female friends unable to go back to work or making career choices they didn't really want to make, just because they couldn't find the right childcare. I felt deeply that this was unfair, and bad for society."
The focus for Koru Kids started as providing nanny-sharing for infants and toddlers but has evolved rapidly into the provision of after-school care as well, due to a huge demand from parents.
The platform connects families in an area with other families with similar requirements, and then connects them all with a nanny, commonly university students, who work on a flexible or bespoke basis for the families and have been through rigorous background and reference checks and health and safety qualifications.
She says the benefits of sharing are three-fold; it brings down the cost for each family, the nanny gets paid more, and the kids have someone to play with.
Rachel says while the obvious benefit is lessening the financial blow, (nanny-sharing brings down the average cost for a family from £13ph to £9ph), there’s an equally important emotional benefit to parents who are able to give their careers renewed focus.
"A lot of parents find they get caught having to pay to go to work. The childcare costs are actually higher than what they earn and that is extremely difficult psychologically. Then you have to think: "It’s not just about this year it’s about my career trajectory as a whole. This is going to affect my whole earning capacity forever"."
The uptake for Koru Kids’ services, Rachel says, was "huge and immediate".
Far beyond just the financial benefits, she says the resounding feedback is about how their childcare eases the stress of the day to day.
"We hear all the time from families who say nannies have bought a sense of order and calmness. Parents who say they felt like they were on a hamster wheel of hell. Parents are just on this relentless treadmill and constantly feeling like you’re behind in everything.
What we bring is rather than picking up their kids form an after-school club and being late and stressed, they arrive home at 6.30, the kids have done their homework, their stuff for the next day is organised.
She has big plans for Koru Kids, including launching ongoing education and training via video modules for their nannies.
"I think parents will really value this. We’re all about just taking these little headaches away and making it ever better and ever safer.
"A New Zealand Koru is an unfurling fern, and also means loop. I want to be this loop of care around the children and the nanny as well."
For mother of two, Claire*, the return to work in a demanding and unpredictable career in the film industry after having her two children was far from easy.
"It’s really challenging, especially in the film industry. People want you to be available to travel any time anywhere. I’ve missed stuff I would have loved to do professionally because I couldn’t find childcare."
When she first went back, having two young toddlers both in nursery was "crippling".
"It was a juggle and it was incredibly expensive so at one point I stopped working. I was paying more for childcare than I was earning.
My career has been slower as a result although I’m hoping long term it won’t make much difference. Two at nursery is pretty crippling."
Once they were at school, she struggled to find a good quality nanny who could work in with her families’ "slightly complex arrangement".
Koru Kids matched her with a nanny who fitted the bill - working just three nights a week, picking up her six and eight year-old from their after-school activities, and with a whole lot of flexibility for late work nights and baby-sitting thrown in when needed.
"She knows the kids really well but I haven’t had to commit, we just do it on an ad-hoc basis. The flexibility is brilliant. You’d usually have to commit to 20 hrs or more."
*not real name