Children need a parent at home during their first year at school, says Coromandel sole parent Cindy Alger.

The 44-year-old mother of three and book illustrator knows from experience that children are more likely to come home because of sickness and other issues during their "transition" to school.

"Often schools do things like finish at 2pm. How does a working parent get around that?

"For that first year you have got to be there if they are having problems at school."


Every sole parent interviewed for this series either does paid work or wants to do it. But their stories point to some of the barriers they face.

Dunedin solo mum Louise Rewi, 38, says it is hard to find a suitable job.

"If I could get a job that's within the school hours, that's fine. But there's some that can't," she says. "I would rather work than stay at home and do nothing while the kids are at school."

Thames mother Cheryl Hemara, whose children are aged 10, 9 and 7, is required to look for part-time work under current policy but has found only casual work housekeeping, cleaning and doing odd jobs.

"At the moment I'm looking for a job," she says. "It's pretty hard for me. You need qualifications."

Her 7-year-old son is a chronic asthmatic.

"He doesn't have fulltime days at school," Ms Hemara says. "I have to put him on a nebuliser machine now and again. If I went to work I wouldn't be able to do that."

In Papatoetoe, Marea Te Tai, 18, is also looking for work although her daughter has just turned 2. Her mother works in a daycare centre so she can look after the toddler.


"I don't like the thought of living off the Government," she says. "I'm looking for work now but it's really hard to get work. A lot of jobs are looking for people with a lot of qualifications and they are not willing to train people."

In Rotorua, Cairo Walker, 25, works as a cleaner but says she is worse off after paying a neighbour to look after her 5-year-old son and buying petrol.

"I've just finished a five-hour day, as I can only do those hours with kids, for less than $100. At the end of the day I get less than I would if I sat at home on my bottom," she says.

She earns $20 an hour before tax but the work is casual. "I might not have work for the next two weeks."

It works out at an average of less than 20 hours a week, so she does not get the $60-a-week in-work tax credit that is supposed to make paid work worthwhile.

Instead, she loses 30c off her domestic purposes benefit for every dollar she earns up to $100 a week and 70c out of every dollar above $200, as well as paying tax and ACC levies of 12.5c in the dollar up to $270 a week and 19.5c above that.

"As soon as I declare my hours, I'm left with my $82 child support basically and that's it," she says. "It's ridiculous. It's really disheartening, it makes you feel like being dishonest."

Despite the system, she works "because I can't sit still and do nothing".

"If I could get a fulltime job I'd be rapt," she says.