I wonder if children look forward to school holidays as much as I did.

The thought of weeks of freedom from the confines of a classroom had me crossing off the days of a school term like an inmate crossing of the days the passing days of his jail sentence on a cell wall.

This sense of anticipation was not fostered by the lure of exotic overseas trips or to the theme parks on the Gold Coast but by the knowledge that I would be able to spend most of the summer at the beach or strolling around the neighbourhood with friends.

Both my parents worked so I was left under the supervision of my older brother.


Supervision, perhaps, is too strong a word. We would walk out of the house, quickly head in different directions and time our return with night fall.

These days, children of working parents now face weeks in a holiday programme, which, at least in my view, could feel similar to school.

Parents today have to juggle work commitments with the needs of their families while paying weekly and monthly bills. Childcare and school holiday programmes are an additional cost.

The cost of childcare, especially if you have more than one child, can be prohibitive.

Reporter Julia Proverbs today reports on page 15 that the average daily cost of a holiday programme hovers around the $40 mark, but specialist programmes and those that include off-site activities, can be as much as $70.

An OSCAR (Out of School Care and Recreation) subsidy is available to help towards the costs of before-school and after-school care for up to 20 hours a week, and school holiday programmes for up to 50 hours a week.

While the subsidy ceiling of more than $90,000 might seem high, middle-income families say they are missing out. The high cost of housing in the Western Bay means many families are grappling with large mortgages. The cost of power and food has also risen sharply over recent years, eating away at family budgets.

A mother in the report, Omokoroa's Rebecca Ruscoe, who has two boys, aged 12 and 7, received a WINZ subsidy when she was a solo parent, but now that she is living with her partner she gets nothing.


"If I put them in five days a week, at $90 a day, I am pretty much working for free," she says.

"There are people who, after tax, don't make $90 a day. Who earns enough to pay $450 a week over 12 weeks?"

Many of these parents also miss out on Government assistance through the Working for Families package.

Families who fall out of the income threshold and who still work, can struggle to make ends meet.

There is another hidden cost in all this: quality time with children.

Not only do some working parents have little left after paying childcare or school holiday programmes, they also pay the terrible cost of not spending enough time with their children and the guilt this creates.

Given the heavy demands placed on parents trying to stay ahead of rising living costs the Government should place a greater emphasis on flexible working arrangements.

The UK has flexible working legislation under which employees who care for someone have the legal right to ask for flexible work hours.

Solutions companies have come up with include job sharing, working from home, flexitime or compressed hours (working fulltime hours but during fewer days), annualised hours, or staggered hours to accommodate school drop-offs.

Some large international companies, such as Westpac, have even tried workplace creches.

In New Zealand, the right to flexible working is not law.

It would ease much of the pressure on working families if it was.