Why is employment support important in an early years' programme?

Catherine Walsh, LEAP’s Parent Champion Manager, describes how the programme is working with parents to create pathways into employment.

The work started with feedback from LEAP’s Parent Reps – volunteers who support local parents by representing their concerns and ensuring that families are kept at the heart of LEAP’s work.

Our Reps told us that parents were struggling to get back into work because of skills gaps and a lack of family-friendly jobs. In response, we set up a focus group consisting of 17 parents. We wanted to hear about their first-hand experiences of the barriers to employment.

Parents described looking for work as “an uphill struggle”. They described the challenges of managing time and money while looking after a young family: “It’s about balancing what you have left”.

Parents of early years children, especially single parents, often face specific barriers to employment such as finding flexible and affordable childcare, finding work that fits around children’s timetables, and finding employers who are understanding when parents need to look after sick children or support children with additional needs.

Some parents take extended time out of the workforce to bring up young children, especially if their children have additional needs. A long time out of the work environment can damage their confidence.

Our focus-group parents spoke about the benefits of work experience in helping to build confidence. Volunteering opportunities which provide structure and developmental opportunities can be a stepping stone into work.

Developing and trialling solutions

A working group, composed of parents, LEAP volunteers, Lambeth Council partners and Voluntary Community Sector stakeholders, identified four areas to work on:

  • Providing volunteering opportunities
  • Offering support to overcome barriers
  • Sharing information and resources
  • Influencing employers to offer more family-friendly, flexible jobs

This led to us trialling several solutions.

Mentoring 12 parents for 6 months – we offered them volunteering opportunities within LEAP and 1-2-1 support from Lambeth’s Employment and Training Advisor.

We created a personal development plan for parents to set objectives and reflect on new skills. Parents met with a mentor to practise articulating these skills to potential employers. The tailored support went down well with parents and the mentor.

“Meeting with families, you start building that relationship with them, and that’s when you start finding out all these other bits to their lives and other issues that are happening.” (Parent mentor)

We planned a networking event for Lambeth parents and employers to meet and discuss family-friendly work opportunities, and the benefits for both parties of employing committed part-time staff.

We also developed a section on LEAP’s website for parents looking for work. Using keyword research and plain English, we created accessible information that is tailored to needs of parents of pre-school children. It links to resources such as a directory that helps parents find suitable childcare. One of the key features is a skills-assessment that parents can access to identify their strengths and any gaps in their skills.

An employment consultant who worked with our Parent Champion volunteers to develop this resource said that a key element was parents “saying what they were looking for, rather than what we thought we should be giving them”.

Early years parents can’t be overlooked

Coming out of the worst of the pandemic, many people are facing increases in the cost of living and real-terms cuts to Universal Credit. At the same time there are employment opportunities – but are they family friendly?

Apprenticeships and schemes to support people into employment exist but parents of young children can be overlooked – many focus on the 16-24 age group.

Feedback from parents and evidence from reports (e.g. Gingerbread 2019) show that parents who have been out of the workforce need and want opportunities to get a foot on the ladder and build confidence for work.

Providing people with high-quality volunteering experiences is a way in which LEAP supports local parents to develop transferable skills for employment such as communication, teamwork and reliability. Linking these practical experiences with reflective mentoring opportunities allows individuals to practise articulating their skills and build the confidence to succeed in job interviews.

Parent-volunteers at LEAP give enormous benefits to the organisation and provide fantastic peer-support for local families. In return, we are committed to investing in our volunteers by providing opportunities for them to develop and thrive.

Further reading

  1. Lambeth Research and Consultation Briefing Equalities Insight 2013
  2. Held Back: Single parents and in-work progression in London, Gingerbread, 2019
  3. Joseph Rowntree 2018 Annual Report on UK Poverty
  4. https://www.leaplambeth.org.uk/families/stresses/employment-toolkit
  5. https://www.leaplambeth.org.uk/families/connecting/parent-champions