Abu Dhabi: Parents of nursery-going children have been advised to coordinate with their employers so that they can provide the necessary care for children during the upcoming, extended break.
Abu Dhabi Department of Education and Knowledge (Adek), the education regulator, has specified in an online statement that parents cannot rely on nurseries for childcare during this period, even if it is difficult to arrange for childcare alternatives.
“No, [nurseries cannot accommodate children during the spring break], and will be closed until further notice. Children are not allowed in all circumstances,” the Adek has said.
Nurseries are also not required to return any fees in lieu of the extended spring break, and staff must still be paid in full, Adek said.
“Will the nurseries return any fees for the suspension period? The nurseries will not return any payments to parents for this period”, the Adek says in its statement.
Working parents’ challenges
Working parents across the UAE have previously voiced concerns about arranging for adequate childcare, with many saying that it is difficult for stand-in caregivers to keep active, young toddlers occupied over an entire day while parents are at work. Many are currently relying on nannies and neighbours, but said the difficulty increases because of the length of the break.
“Young children naturally tend to touch things and put toys and other things in their hands and in their mouths. Therefore, maintaining the health and safety of children requires a great deal of awareness and caution, especially as they may not [be able to stand] the impact of the chemicals used in the strict hygiene procedures currently followed as a precaution against the transmission of Covid-19,” the Adek said.
The authority has also not set a date for nurseries to resume activities, saying that it will update its social media accounts and webpage to reflect updates. Parents can also contact a dedicated hotline for updates: +971 58 5886570.
Call for flexible work hours
With schools and nurseries in the UAE being closed, many working mothers are having to make adjustments to accommodate the closure.
"It has been extremely difficult and sudden," said Mahek Taneja. "My daughter is two years old and is at nursery all day, when I am at work. The decision although fantastic and we understand is for the safety of our children, I wish there was little more time to plan, we’ve no help and arranging for a new nanny or even a family member cannot be done overnight, and now with the situation growing, to get anyone to travel and stay with us is not advised, safety and precautions are for all at the moment.
"My husband has been extremely adjusting and we’ve both been taking turns to manage her at home.
"I have also used my annual leave and am doing my best to make a good balance between both lives. Although there is news on flexi hours, I hope there are better exceptions made for families like us."
Kate Monaghan, a Dubai-based retail planner and mother of two, is currently on maternity leave, “The reports on the virus are really conflicting but I commend the UAE’s approach of implementing immediate precautionary measures. However, we don’t have a nanny or family living in the region. I’m lucky that my boss would allow me flexible working hours. If we had more notice, we would have flown in the grandparents to care for the children. We don’t really want to hire a nanny right now because we don’t have one that the kids are used to.”
“I believe that each individual company should look at each working mother’s situation individually and see what they can do to help, whether its flexible working hours or other solutions,” Monaghan suggests.
“The main challenge I believe for working mothers is that working from home is not always a realistic option especially for mothers with more than one child.”
Neha Chharia, a UAE-based lawyer, disagrees, “I’d love to have the option of working from home at least a few days a week. I hope that companies can allow more flexible hours. If I’m at home with my child it is a more manageable situation. I am really worried about what I’m going to have to do since my child’s nanny only comes at 12pm and someone has to stay with my child in the morning. Come Sunday, I genuinely have no idea what I’ll be doing.”
The lawyer also says, “It is very important that the country is taking these precautionary measures and in turn the private working sector needs to be flexible when they have working mums in their employment.”
Mum of three and editor of a parenting magazine, Tabitha Barda, gives her professional opinion on the situation, “I think parents fall into two defined camps. There are parents who were really happy because they feel like they’re able to control where their children are and they can avoid large crowded areas. Then a lot of parents are confused and panicking a bit because they don’t have backup plans. A lot of them don’t have extended family, or nannies.”
When it comes to working parents, Barda said, “Some [working parents] don’t have any option of working from home or taking any time off. They’re hoping for some kind of announcement that something is being done about it. Companies have to be a bit flexible [with working parents] because this is really a one off.”