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Whether you are heading back to work after maternity or paternity leave or re-entering the workplace after a long break, we have the advice to help you find out about flexible working, childcare solutions and how to feel confident in your career.

Getting back into work

Re-entering the workplace after maternity/ paternity leave can be a challenge for any parent, However, for parents of children with a disability/ additional needs, it can be an uphill struggle. Appointments with school, hospital, organising good quality childcare, dealing with any emergencies and more all complicate finding the right job.

Employment Rights

Flexible working

There are several types of flexible working. Flexible working can take the form of:

  • Homeworking.
  • Part-time working.
  • Flexitime.
  • Job sharing.
  • Shift work.

The right to request flexible working

Employees with less than 26 weeks of service don’t have a statutory right to request flexible working. However, some employers may allow staff to request it regardless.

To request flexible working, employees must:

  • Request flexible working in writing, stating: the date the request is made; the change to working conditions they are seeking, and the date they would like the change to take effect.
  • State whether they have made a previous application for flexible work and the date of that application.
  • State what changes to working conditions they are seeking. It’s a good idea to include how they think this may affect the business e.g. cost saving to the business.
  • If they’re making their request concerning the Equality Act 2010, for example, as a reasonable adjustment for the disabled employee.

It’s important to remember:

  • Requests and appeals must be considered and decided upon by the employer within three months of the request.
  • Employers must have a sound business reason for rejecting any request.
  • Employees can only make one request in 12 months.

Negotiating flexible working

While you can find external help with regards to gaining flexible working hours, this may not be the best first option. It’s likely to be more sustainable for both you and your employer to come to a negotiated agreement. If you can show how your flexible working benefits them in a business setting, they’re more likely to grant your request.

  • Do your groundwork, and start with an informal conversation.
  • Plan ahead for a meeting, gather information about people who do similar jobs to yours on a flexible basis.
  • Be prepared to suggest solutions to problems your employer might raise.
  • Think carefully about your situation. Try to put forward the best proposal you can of how your new arrangement would work.
  • Approach negotiation in an open, positive manner. But also be careful about how and when you approach your employer in case you cannot reach an agreement.
  • Keep notes of meetings with your employer, noting anything agreed to along the way, including trial periods.
  • Explain why you need the new work pattern and mention if it is because of childcare or disability.

For more information on requesting flexible working hours, and what to do if you encounter problems doing so, see the ACAS website.

Support at work

At some point, most families with a disabled child will find it useful to get support or advice from their local social services department. These departments have a legal duty to provide or help source the support families, children and vulnerable adults need to live independently.

Do you tell your employer about your caring role?

As a parent of a disabled child, you are typically classed as their carer. As such you may have certain entitlements under an employers carers policy, but only if you disclose it, it is your choice.

Find out whether there is a carer’s policy or any extra support for carers in your workplace by checking your contract of employment, staff handbook, HR policies or letter of appointment.

If a carer’s policy is in place, then it should outline what support is on offer in your workplace. Examples could include:

  • Carers’ leave (either paid or unpaid).
  • Time off to accompany the person you are looking after to appointments (either paid or unpaid).
  • There may be a carers support group or primary contact for if you are struggling.

Receiving benefits while working

We know that working whilst caring for a disabled child can be a challenge, there several benefits available to working parents of disabled children. These benefits include supporting with costs of childcare (see below), and some forms of universal credit (including what was previously known as income support, careers allowance and tax credits).

Find more information about what benefits you can claim for yourself and your child in our article on Benefits and Finance.

Social Services Assessment

Parents of disabled children have a right to ask for their child’s needs to be assessed by social services. This is usually a requirement before entitlements to certain services and support become available for your child. For more information on these assessments, including how to apply and what support your child may be eligible for, see our article on Child Diagnosis.

Parental leave

Every parent at some point needs time off work to be with their child, but parents of disabled children may need additional support from their employer to juggle caring with paid work. Parents may know in advance when they need time off, however, at other times they may have to leave work in an emergency. Parents have rights at work that can help in these circumstances, these include:

Time off in an emergency or at short notice

All workers have the right to take time off for dependants (children) from day one of their jobs. You may take a “reasonable amount” of unpaid time off work to deal with unexpected emergencies involving a dependant, this is known as Parental Leave.

Parental leave allows employees to take time off work to look after a child and is available for each child up to their 18th birthday.

You should be aware that what is considered ‘reasonable time off” isn’t defined in the law. Often companies will have varying definitions of this. You should be entitled to take sufficient time to make ‘alternative care arrangements’ regardless of their definition.

Employees are entitled to take up to eighteen weeks of parental leave per child (in total) provided you have been with your employer for at least a year. An employee may wish to take parental leave to:

  • Stay with a child who is in hospital.
  • Spend more time with a child experiencing difficulties.
  • Make school and/or childcare arrangements.

To request parental leave, you need to give your employer at least 21 days’ notice. This is usually best done in writing, as your employer can request for it to be given in this way.

Finding childcare

Finding the right childcare for your child can feel like a bit of an uphill struggle, however, if you can find one that works for the whole family its worth it, in the end. This will result in greater freedom and more independence to live the life you want.

Top tips on finding childcare

  • Start looking early – Finding the right childcare early means less stress and fewer rushed decisions.
  • See your local authority’s Local Offer – this is information on all organisations and services that are available in your area (see below).
  • Talk to them – even if they appear to only accommodate for one type of disability/age. Also, if they can’t support your child, they may know another provider who can.
  • Find your local Family Information Service (FIS) – When you contact them, explain that your child has a disability or special educational need. They should then refer you to the area Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCO). Your local SENCO can advise you about any specialist childcare services, or additional funding you may be entitled to. (If you’re unsure where your local FIS is, the Childcare and Family Services Finder should be able to find your nearest one).
  • Consider the type of childcare you want/ need – Would it be better for your child to be cared for at home, in a group setting or another person’s home?

What kind of childcare should I be looking for?

Childminders

If home-based childcare is the best fit for your family, have a look for registered childminders. It’s a pricier option, but it allows you to match your child’s needs with the skills of a qualified nanny or childminder. By law, all childminders must be OFSTED registered.

SNAP Childcare is one of the better-known agencies out there specialising in childcare for children with additional needs. Alternatively, your local FIS should be able to help you find a childminder.

Nurseries

Nurseries can be run by local authorities or privately, but must always be registered with OFSTED. They usually have set hours and only cater to under-fives above a minimum age. If your child has been allocated hours in a local authority nursery because they are deemed to be ‘in need’ you may be able to pay for the extra hours you need to cover your working hours.

Your Local Offer

All local councils in England are required to publish a ‘Local Offer’. This provides information detailing the services and activities that families can find locally and how to access them. The Local Offer will include information on:

  • Options for childcare in your area, including those with the expertise to support children with SEND.
  • Support for parents to aid children’s development at home. Including home learning programmes and Portage (Portage is a home-visiting educational service for pre-school children with SEND and their families, see www.portage.org.uk for more information on this).
  • Free early education entitlements (FEEE) any other special arrangements for children with SEND.
  • Support to help children with SEND transition from a nursery/ childminder to reception class at primary school.
  • Health services.
  • Schools.
  • Other services available locally.
  • How to ask for advice from specialist services.
  • Giving feedback.
  • Challenging Local Authority decisions and making complaints.

Paying for childcare

Childcare can be expensive, but the following types of financial support are available through your local authority:

  • 15 hours of free early education for some 2-year-olds and all 3 and 4-year-olds.
  • An additional 15 hours of free childcare is also available for “working parents” of all 3 and 4-year-olds. This additional 15 hours also apply to carers of a disabled child if their partner is working.
  • Tax-free childcare accounts are available that can be paid into to cover the cost of childcare from a registered provider. The government will top up the account with 20% of childcare costs, up to a total of £4,000 per year for a disabled child.
  • Additional financial support for families receiving tax credits and, in future, Universal Credit. These cover up to 70% and 85% respectively of the cost of care for parents with low incomes.
  • Employer-supported childcare vouchers which can be worth around £900 each year. Not all employers offer this scheme.

The Government’s Childcare Choices website is also available to help guide parents on the best way to find affordable childcare.

Maintaining a work/ life balance

For anyone with disabled children, maintaining a work-life balance is a challenge. It’s not just managing your child’s needs alongside work and other responsibilities, finding a balance between these and remembering to take time for yourself is important.

  • Try not to lose touch with friends who don’t have children with additional needs. As much as you might worry about them not understanding what you’re dealing with, if you don’t try to explain, they never will.
  • Research your child’s condition at your own pace. The internet is full of useful information, but not all of it is useful straight away. Trying to take in everything about your child’s condition and any arrangements you might have to make for them in future will likely only leave you feeling overwhelmed. Alternatively, try to do it a bit at a time, it will help you process the information better, allowing you to improve any plans you make for your child over time.
  • If you’re employed, speak with your manager about options for flexible working. Many roles do not need to be carried out between specific hours or in a specific place.
  • Wherever possible, take time for yourself, whether it be simply going for a walk, or spending a couple of hours with a friend. It’s important for your own wellbeing and mental health to occasionally take a break from the stress of daily life.
  • If you arent coping, don’t be afraid to speak up! Asking for help, either from your local family information service or other parents can open up new networks and options that can give you better support.

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