Spring has arrived and the end of the school year is within sight. Most kids are counting down the days while most working parents are breaking a sweat trying to cobble together two-plus months of camps, vacations, occasional day-trips, and childcare, hoping their plans on paper work in practice. Add a child, teen, or young adult with special needs and the challenges intensify considerably.
If you’re an employer or a manager, here are three ways you can offer support:
1. Children have needs over the summer, and without school providing a predictable daily schedule, parents struggle. Add a child with autism or other special needs, and the challenges intensify. Some children qualify for Extended School Year services, yet they're typically less than a full-day and almost never run from the last day of school in June to the first day of school in late August/early September.
SOLUTION: Provide flexible work hours if not already offered, offer parents remote work opportunities, and allow for vacation and personal time to be used in hours or partial days vs. full days. And be flexible with last-minute and crisis needs that arise. If your parental leave policies need evaluation, now is the time to do it. Companies that are aware and responsive to these needs are those that retain working parents.
2. Children with special needs who are attending camp and other summer programs often have needs that require parent assistance. And it's not the "I forgot my swimsuit" type of need either. Therapies, tutoring, and other supports continue throughout the summer, putting extra pressure on already stressed parents with exceptional caregiving responsibilities when it comes to juggling work, appointments, transportation and more.
SOLUTION: Allow parents access to a specially-designated office or private space for them to make telephone calls, schedule a video conference with camp personnel or support staff, schedule appointments, and confer with doctors, clinicians, and others as needed. It can reduce time away from the office and provides employees with the privacy they need. Plus, it demonstrates that the company understands the stressors involved with exceptional caregiving responsibilities, not only on a daily basis but also during the challenging summer months as well.
3. Children with autism spectrum disorders, ADHD, or similar needs require structure and predictability, and the summer months are often when this is difficult to achieve and maintain. Parents prepare as best as possible, yet situations develop that require them to adapt and adjust quickly. A particular camp may not work. A childcare provider may leave. A therapist may request additional evaluations. These situations mean that employees need time and resources to help.
SOLUTION: Communicate to all employees that their EAP is available to assist with issues that relate to summer needs, whether locating a last-minute child care provider or addressing stress-related issues. Providing employees with access to resources to help them manage their children’s needs as well as their own work/life issues is key to employee retention. And if employee assistance or work/life programs or services are not yet available, now is the time to start.
One of the things we consistently hear from working parents is that they need more support and assistance, whether managing their children's needs or understanding how to navigate through school. And these needs are year-round, often intensifying over the summer months as planning for September begins well before this school year ends.
Employers play a pivotal role, not only in creating family-friendly workplaces, but in recognizing that many working parents have needs that are not so apparent...or even discussed, and that go way beyond infancy. Offering flexibility and supports to parents throughout the year, especially over the summer months, can make all the difference in helping top performing employees remain on the job.