'Struggle of the juggle is very real': Karitane

'Parents need support': Karitane CEO Grainne OLoughlin. Picture: Simon Bennett
'Parents need support': Karitane CEO Grainne OLoughlin. Picture: Simon Bennett

Karitane CEO Grainne O'Loughlin said when it comes to parents and working - "the struggle of the juggle is very real."

"What we were seeing through our parenting services, even before coronavirus, was an increase in stressed and anxious working parents needing support," she said.

"The first 2000 days shapes a child's future and in this time children develop many of the skills and abilities that help them grow into productive adults. Bonded attachment is critical for a child's brain development, their ability to form relationships and is proven to have improved education outcomes as well as reducing the risk of mental illness."

It's why Karitane has joined forces with Parents At Work, PANDA - Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia and UNICEF Australia to highlight the need for the business community to understand and respond to the real challenges facing working families.

The nine family-friendly workplace recommendations.

The nine family-friendly workplace recommendations.

As part of that, the group has published a set of nine family-friendly workplace recommendations designed to provide employers with a guide on how best to support their employees through the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

The recommendations - which include normalising flexible work, promoting gender equality and supporting childcare - are in response to the findings in the National Working Family Survey in October last year.

"The findings showed that the lion's share of parenting was still the responsibility of the mother. But there were more and more dads saying, 'Hey, I want to take parental leave, I want to share bringing up our child, I want to be there and have that experience'," Ms O'Loughlin said.

"The main thing about this partnership is that we've combined with these organsations to create a support mechanism in the workplace for working parents. So, in addition to seeking out help from health systems, we believe that the workplace in itself is a support for working parents where you can get support to be a working parent juggling both roles and not have to compartmentalise or separate being a parent or being a staff member.

"We're pretty excited about this partnership. Karitane has had a long standing partnership with Parents At Work for about four years and through that work, the APLEN (Advancing Parental Leave Equality Network) group was developed."

The first 2000 days shapes a child's future and in this time children develop many of the skills and abilities that help them grow into productive adults.

Karitane CEO Grainne O'Loughlin

Ms O'Loughlin said Karitane are "experts in providing practical parenting support" which ranges from breastfeeding and sleep routines to mental health and the anxiety and depression related around that perinatal period. The figures reveal one in five mums and one in 10 dads, experience, perinatal anxiety and depression.

"When you get that combined with people who've been on parental leave, and they're thinking about going back to work in three weeks, and they're not getting any sleep, or their mental health is impacted, and they have to front up and do a high level or any sort of job, actually, it really impacts their mental health and their stress and also their productivity in the workplace," she said.

"This is about creating healthy children in the future and if they're not being parented by parents who are free of mental health and stress, then the impact on the child can be lifelong. So if organisations can help parents through this juggle, then the outcome is that you get healthy, confident, well adjusted children.

"Looking at the nine family friendly workplace recommendations Karitane can support organisations around two, three and four - strengthening health, safety and wellbeing, providing new parenting support, and family violence support.

"Whereas when you look at Parents at Work, they might be working with companies around normalising their flexible work or helping them look at their financial well being and supporting child care principles."

Ms O'Loughlin said their original work was to start to dispel the old traditional gender roles culture and to look at parental leave being equitable and accessible for any parent, regardless of gender.

"...And then COVID-19 hit and what happened was you had lots of people working from home with their babies, or toddlers and young children around them, and that brought all sorts of different challenges; relationship stresses, people juggling work and flexible hours and people are working all hours of the day and the night and working around the kids demands, be it sleep, schooling, whatever, but also living in quite close proximity with fewer social networks," she said.

"And that has created relationship issues, it's created some mental health issues and for single parents it's created isolation issues."

The group's mission to help organisations put together a working family policy - centered around the nine recommendations - is just the beginning.

The nine recommendations are:

  1. Normalise flexible work.
  2. Strengthen health, safety and wellbeing.
  3. Provide new parent support.
  4. Address family and domestic violence.
  5. Provide financial wellbeing services to families.
  6. Review family leave policies.
  7. Support childcare.
  8. Educate leaders.
  9. Promote gender equality.

"Companies say they have a policy where dads can take parental leave... all they have to do is ask. But you talk to the dads and they say, geez, you know, it's career suicide if I asked for more than three weeks off," she said.

"It's about living the policies and bringing them to life and employees knowing they will be supported to do the juggle to have flexible work and being present as a parent.

"And more and more organisations from a well-being perspective, recognise the value in that; both in staff retention and staff wellbeing and productivity."

Parents at Work CEO Emma Walsh said it's "more important than ever" for businesses to invest in policies and practices that support working families.

"This partnership aims to advocate for better outcomes for working parents and the businesses they work for right now, but also after the coronavirus crisis eases," she said.

"This is all about embracing the future of work, recognising that the health and wellbeing of families is critical to business recovery and success. Bridging the work and family divide post COVID-19 involves employers, government, community services and families working together to build a pathway for recovery - the health and wellbeing of individuals, their families and our economy depends on it."