When you are ill or indisposed is not the ideal moment to start working out alternative arrangements for caring for a child. Having a backup plan in place, with contacts to hand, is a source of peace of mind and an ultimately quicker way of dealing with a difficult situation.
Not all options are open to everyone, but these are some to consider:
1. Kinship carers
Friends or relatives or other families (“kinship carers”), for an emergency care arrangement, if they are available. Under some circumstances they would need to register (there is a summary of the registration organisations at: www.childcare.co.uk/information/checking-childcarer-documents) or inform the local council. More details: www.gov.uk/looking-after-someone-elses-child (government website) and www.devon.gov.uk/cypsfactsheet-disc6-childmindingbetweenfriends.pdf (Devon County Council). Such arrangements can be reciprocal (you be my care backup and I will be yours) and can usually remain informal as long as the arrangement cannot be construed as a substitute for financial reward, which kinship carers cannot legally receive. Grandparents who are helping with childcare may like to check out the advice of the Grandparents’ Association. Caution: some websites contain inaccurate information about kinship caring.
People temporarily looking after a child because a parent-carer is ill may qualify for Income Support (see page 7 the DWP’s Guide to Income Support).
2. Voluntary carers
These schemes sometimes require pre-registration, also can include nomination of particular backup carers of your choice, so again it is worth thinking about this option in advance.
There may a local carers’ group or centre, and/or a local Carers Emergency scheme that can put a plan in place so that the child / young person you care for will be looked after while you are indisposed. Contacts are known to the national carers’ organisations (below) as well as NHS 111, i.e. telephone 111 for England and Scotland / NHS Direct Wales, 0845 46 47. If the national organisations do not know of any, double-check with the local public library or, of course, word-of-mouth. The Carers Emergency schemes generally have a 24-hour hotline.
3. Local authority
Families who are assessed as needing it will be able to arrange more formal “replacement care” or “emergency planning” through social services or other services. More details about this: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/social-care-and-support-guide/Pages/breaks-for-carers-respite-care.aspx (NHS Choices. Also check the government website for your part of the UK). Direct Payments provide more flexibility in employing carers.
In the case of children who have an NHS continuing care package, it should be possible to arrange nursing or other provision, with or without a Personal Health Budget.
5. Privately paid carers
Searching on Internet for “Emergency childcare” or “Emergency home care” will find a number of independent last-minute booking facilities with paid carers.
If you are combining paid work with care, it may also be useful to check your parental rights at work: see Cerebra guides for parents, as well as your rights in sickness (Citizens Advice). Also worth checking, whether there is anything to help you in the small print of any insurance policies you hold.