Updated: Apr 10, 2019
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, appointments, and childcare, hoping their plans on paper work in practice.
Add a child, teen, or young adult with special needs and the issues intensify considerably, and employers are often unaware of the challenges and pressures on working mothers and fathers. It impacts everything - families, finances, productivity, and the parent's ability to manage often conflicting demands and responsibilities.
If you’re an employer or a manager, here are three ways you can offer support:
1. Children have needs over the summer that simply don't exist to the same extent during the school year, and without a predictable daily schedule, many children struggle...and so do their parents. Add a child with autism or other special needs, and the stressors are considerable. Some children qualify for Extended School Year (i.e. summer school-based) 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. Extend to working parents remote work opportunities on either an ongoing or as-needed basis. Allow for vacation and personal time to be used in hours or partial days vs. full days. Provide emergency back-up care - including for teens - when needed. And be flexible with last-minute and crisis situations that arise, because they will. All of this also requires education - managers need to be aware and willing to implement these flexible solutions to ease parental stress rather than adding to it.
And, if your parental leave policies need evaluation or none currently exist, now is the time to develop them. Companies that are aware and responsive to these needs are those that retain working parents by bringing their complex work/life needs front and center.
2. Children with special needs who are attending camp and other summer programs often have needs that require parental assistance or intervention. And it's not the "I forgot my swimsuit" or "I left my lunch at home" type of needs either. Therapies, tutoring, and services continue throughout the summer, putting extra pressure on already stressed parents with these 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 shows that the company understands that working parents face needs that are often out-of-sight, yet contribute to mental health issues facing many working parents including depression and beyond.
3. Children with autism spectrum disorders, ADHD, and other needs require structure and predictability, and the summer months are often when this is difficult if not impossible to achieve and maintain. Parents prepare as best as possible, yet situations develop that require them to adapt and adjust quickly. A particular camp program may not work. A childcare provider may leave. A medical issue that requires more than a one-hour/one-time visit may emerge. These situations mean that employees need time and resources to handle these issues and needs.
SOLUTION: Communicate to all employees that their EAP (if one exists) is available to assist with issues that relate to summer needs, whether locating a clinician or last-minute specialized care needs. 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 or provided, now is the time to start.
One of the things I consistently hear from working parents is that they need more support and assistance, and these needs are year-round, often intensifying over the summer months. All working parents struggle with the patchwork of summer programming and needs, yet for those whose children have more complex needs, the struggles are extensive.
Employers play a pivotal role, not only in creating family-friendly workplaces, but in recognizing that many working parents have needs that are not apparent...or even discussed, and that go way beyond infancy.
If an Employee Resource Group for working parents with special needs children does not currently exist, start one. Promote it widely throughout the company and encourage participation from remote and off-site employees as well.
If managers lack training on the work/life issues facing working parents, particularly surrounding disabilities and special needs children, make it a priority. And secure an in-house champion within the C-suite or management ranks to support this initiative.
If working mothers are leaving your company and you don't know why, find out. While compensation and opportunities for promotion may be factors, the #1 factor is the lack of workplace flexibility and work/life programming and supports.
And if working parents don't feel as though they can discuss the issues they're facing, whether with HR, their manager, or even colleagues regarding their own work/life struggles, creating a safe and supportive culture where difficult issues can be discussed can make all the difference, for working parents, their children/families, and the company as well.