A helping hand for the holidays

IT'S the summer holidays - so what do you do with the kids?

IT'S the summer holidays - so what do you do with the kids? Looking after them is increasingly costly and right now you don't want to be spending loads keeping the little ones entertained - but help is at hand. JAMES MARSTON and LISA SALMON report.

WHEN you're a working parent, the summer holidays don't signal sun-kissed beaches and sangria, they bring the headache of finding child care and the cash to fund it.

And as the long school break begins, countless parents are trying to work out who will look after the kids for six weeks - and whether they can afford it if the only solution is paid care.

There are, of course, various options, including help from relatives and friends, taking time off work, finding a childminder for the holidays, or paying for a place at a summer holiday club.

There are also holiday playschemes, which offer group activities and outings for children aged five to around 14, and residential or day children's holiday camps.

There are certainly plenty of opportunities for the young ones to have a lot of fun in the sun - but most of it comes at a price.

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Holiday child care is becoming increasingly expensive, and a survey of the costs released by the Daycare Trust recently, shows that the typical weekly charges have risen considerably in most parts of the country over the past year, to an average of £87.43.

In England, there was a rise of 10.1per cent, which was almost double the increase in Wales, and slightly higher than the rise in Scotland.

In addition, more than half of English local authorities reported that parents feel there's not enough holiday child care, and all regions reported a lack of provision for the over-12s, and for disabled children.

“High quality holiday child care is essential for working families,” says Daycare Trust joint chief executive Emma Knights.

“Parents shouldn't be put in a position where they have to choose between earning money to support their family and stopping work to care for their children.”

She points out that good holiday child care provides a stimulating environment for children, and they often get the chance to try things they wouldn't otherwise experience.

“That's why it's deeply worrying that parents are reporting a lack of holiday child care provision, and that average prices are rising well above inflation, pushing the costs beyond the reach of poorer families.”

She adds: “It's important that parents claim any help to which they're entitled.”

Even the government is urging parents to check they get all the financial help towards child care they need before the summer break.

It has teamed up with money campaigner Martin Lewis, who points out that parents working more than 16 hours a week could claim up to 80pc of their child care costs back when they use Ofsted-registered child care.

He also advises parents to check if they're eligible for child care vouchers, which can save up to £1,000 a year off costs, and urges them to check out the free clubs and activities offered by local schools over the summer months, and utilise free early learning classes for children aged three and four.

Lewis, founder of MoneySavingExpert.com, stresses that child care costs are increasing rapidly, and says: “In these days of the four horsemen of the financial apocalypse - economic slowdown, the credit crunch, inflation and house price falls - it's difficult for parents to take time off work.”

It's certainly something that mums are worried about - a recent Netmums survey found that more than half of working mums are expecting to spend more than £300 per child on childminders and activity clubs over the holidays, while 35pc will rely on friends and family to mind their children over the break.

Mums are also worried about how they're going to juggle work and family over the summer, with 75pc saying they feel guilty about the prospect of leaving their children while they go to work.

Netmums founder Siobhan Freegard says: “With all the talk of the credit crunch and rising food and fuel costs, mums are filling our forums with requests for ideas to help them cope during the summer holidays.

“It's not surprising that so many working mums turn to friends and family to help them through the school holidays - it really is a worrying time financially for parents.”

Cathy Rogan, a rights adviser for the charity Working Families, agrees that many parents rely on families to help with summer child care - but some are not so lucky.

“If you do have family that can help out, obviously that's usually free. But a lot of people don't have parents living nearby, or the grandparents are working themselves, so they have to rely on childminders or holiday clubs.

“People try to work it out as best they can, and end up with quite a complicated six weeks where it's a club one week, grandma's the next, and so on.”

Rogan advises parents to ring their local Family Information Service (contactable through the local authority) to get a list of local childminders and summer holiday clubs, and speak to employers about what can be worked out.

“A lot of parents have to vary their working hours during school holidays. Otherwise, paying for extra child care can be a real shock to the system.

“But for some parents, it's inevitable.”

- Suffolk Families Information service provides information, advice and assistance for families, children and young people aged 0-19 years. For more information call 0845 60 800 33.

- Is child care difficult for you during the summer holidays? Are you a gran who helps? What do you think? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or send an e-mail to eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

- Have fun with the kids and save your money

TAKING the kids out for a day does not have to stretch the purse strings.

A spokeswoman for Suffolk County Council said: “With the credit crunch hitting people hard and many people choosing to holiday at home this year there's never been a better time to explore what's right on your doorstep.”

With the prime minister choosing to holiday in the county this summer we take a look at what he, and you, could be getting up to in Suffolk.

Here are a few ideas:-

Needham Lake Picnic Site

Nature walk, children's play area, ice cream kiosk, tarmac path around lake, suitable for buggies and wheelchairs.

Tel: 01449 724633

Where: Just off Needham Market town centre

Cost: Free

Scarecrow Building

Monday, August 4, 2008. 4pm.

Join the staff at Thornham and make your own scarecrow. After a short walk to collect items to make your scarecrow, it's back to base to build and decorate your scarecrow. Please bring your own old clothes for the scarecrow.

Tel: 01379 788008

Where: Thornham Walks Car Park

Cost: £3 per child, accompanying adults free

Build A Boat

Monday, August 18, 2008. 2-4pm

Make your own mini boat from materials and then sail it down the River Waveney.

Tel: 01379 788008

Where: Homersfield Bridge Picnic Site, Thornham Walks

Cost: £3 per child, accompanying adults free

Treasure Hunts!

Visit the Mid Suffolk Tourist Information Centre in Stowmarket and pick up a copy of the Heart of Suffolk Treasure Hunts and discover the treasures hidden within.

Tel: 01449 676800

Cost: Free

Family Fun Farm Trail

Visit Hollowtrees Farm Shop and see the farm animals as you follow the farm trail.

Where: Hollowtrees Farm Shop, Semer, near Hadleigh

Cost: Free

Alton Water

Relax, picnic and watch the sailing.

Where: Alton Water, near Stutton

Cost: Free

Dunwich Museum

A delightful and charming museum that will keep you and your children entertained from a short visit to a whole afternoon. The museum provides the one-stop shop for coastal erosion, “invaders and settlers” and the history of the East Anglian coast.

Tel: 01728 648559

Where: Dunwich Heath

Cost: Free

Nature's Olympics at RSPB Minsmere

Thursday and Friday, August 7 and 8. Crafts and games with Olympic theme at the annual Minsmere family days. Free entry to all. Activities from 11am to 4pm. Allow about two hours.

Tel: 01728 648281

Where: Minsmere

Cost: Free

Horrible History - guided walks with the gory bits!

Ipswich Tourist Information Centre, and the town's Blue Badge Tour Guides, have put together a brilliant programme of guided walks - especially for kids - to help you discover the fantastic history of the town.

The walks have great themes - like “Horrible History”, “Have You Ever Noticed That Before” and “Windows, Walls and So Much More” and are ideal for 8-12 year olds (although others with a genuine interested are welcome).

So now you can hear about history, and your town, as you've never experienced it before - death, diseases, executions, grave robbers - and even what people did with their poo! - as well as discovering fabulous architecture and other surprises along the way.

The walks take place every Wednesday at 10.30am.

Tel: 01473 258070

Where: meet Tourist Information Centre

Cost: £3 per child (one well-behaved adult may accompany per booking, free of charge). Tickets to be booked in advance.