Locums and parenting during COVID-19 

Locum work is great for flexibility, but it needs a higher level of organisation than a normal 9-5 position that you know inside out. Your schedule can change week-to-week, so how do you manage alongside the demands of parenting? 


Before COVID19, you only had to think about organising your children and your home for ‘normal’ days – packing them off to school with everything they need or arranging childcare for when you were working. Now, childcare is a more complicated matter. This will inevitably cause more stress on both the locum and the family as a whole 


Children through the years have faced crises, but not all of them can come to terms with a dramatic change to their lives. In some cases, anxiety creeps in, particularly if their parent is heavily involved in something they don’t quite understand but have been told is serious. 


Finding good childcare as a locum 

During this third lockdown, schools are only open to the children of key workers or vulnerable children and classes only available online. Locums are classed as key workers because they are critical to maintaining the UK’s health and social care sector, so this should not be a concern. According to the latest government guidance, all children will be back at school from the 8th March.  


However, we know that locums don’t just work 8-3:30 on weekdays. By the nature of your work, you will quite often have to work shift patterns. Unless you and your partner can arrange to work different shifts each day, you may need to call upon a childminder of some kind. You’ll need to discuss it with your partner to see what can be done and prioritise shifts which fit your schedule. So, what childcare works best for locums?  


The best option will always be family members, who know your children almost as well as you do. Of course, you may not have any living close enough to you, or they may be elderly and need to shield from Covid-19.  


You may like to consider a ‘childcare bubble’, which is acceptable by the UK government. This is when two households combine to help each other out during difficult times, such as the Covid-19 pandemic. Informal childcare should neither be paid for or need to be registered, but it is legal. A good idea is to find a suitable ‘bubble partner’ from your children’s peer group, or from neighbours that they know really well. You are only allowed one childcare bubble. This is probably the most suitable arrangement you will find, and the most economical alternative. Any child under 14 can be cared for this way, and also allowed to stay overnight within the bubble. Friends or family who do not live with in the same household and are not part of a support or childcare bubble are not allowed to visit to help with childcare. 


In England, childminders and nurseries for children 0 to 5 years, can remain open. Childminders can take the older children of keyworkers or vulnerable children before and after school. This may be particularly relevant to locums and their partner, if they are key workers and do shift work, necessitating out of hours childcare. 


Out of school activities such as football, dance classes and gymnastics are not allowed. This can be depressing for children and parents, and some imagination will be required to organise activities to play in the home and garden.   


Potential Mental Health Issues 

It is important for parents and carers to address their own fears and anxieties before dealing with children as they can pick up on their carers worries. Children respond best to a calm and confident approach from their parents and carers.  


The child may ask why it is that when the government say to stay at home their parents are still going to work? They might be upset that they cannot do things they usually would.  


Children’s anxieties and worries stem from 4 main areas:

1.Strained family relationships 

2. Academic Stress 

3. Reduced contact with peers and friends 

4. Worries about the Coronavirus itself 


The children of key workers (including locums) may worry that their parent is at risk of contacting the COVID-19 disease and becoming ill or even dying. This is a serious concern and should be addressed as by assuring the child that proper preventative measures are in place, such as PPE, hand washing and social distancing. Explain gently that vaccines have been administered thus reducing the chance of contacting the disease. 


If you feel unsafe, it could be worth avoiding higher-risk healthcare environments, instead opting for options with less contact such as out of hours, remote consultations and triage. This will provide reassurance for the whole family.  


Children’s questions about COVID-19 should be answered in an age-appropriate way. Find out what they are feeling and what it is that most troubles them. 


What to do when patients are afraid to send their children to school 

Schools will be reopening to all pupils on March 8th 2021In the instance of being faced by parents who refuse to send their children to school, this matter needs to be handled delicately. 


If there is an acceptable reason for absence this should be recorded. If there is no acceptable reason for non-attendance, parents should be informed that they still have a duty to ensure that their children receive full time education. 


Ask the parents what their concerns are and try to address them one by one. Parents should be informed that no environment is entirely risk free. The incidence of COVID-19 in children is very low and when children do contract the disease it is usually very mild. Once the locum has settled their own children into a comfort zone, they may consider using the same tactics with any children (along with their parents) brought to the surgery with problems, anxiety or fears regarding the virus.  


Children generally are a resilient bunch and can cope with crises better than we would ever imagine. However, all locums and of course any parents, must be vigilant about watching for signs of unusual behaviour. 


Do locums get parental leave? 

As a locum, you should be covered for any eventualities that may cause loss of earnings – including parental leave. However, this is unlikely to be included in temporary contracts so it is worth looking into personal income protection. In the case of long-term locum work, you may be able to negotiate parental leave in your contact but ultimately it is the employer’s decision. This may also lead to you being inside IR35 from April 2021.  


This is a difficult time to be a parent, but locum work means you can work around the needs of your family. Communicating the level of contact you are comfortable with in different healthcare environments and when you are available for shifts will help locum staffing agencies find the right shifts for you.  


If you are interested in locum work, see our vacancies here.  


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