Interview With Sarah-Jane Butler, Founder, Parental Choice

Sarah-Jane, you're the Founder of Parental Choice, which provides specialist childcare services. Tell us a bit about the company, and what drove you to start it.

Parental Choice provides all-encompassing childcare and admin services for parents who wish to spend the little time they have with their children rather than sorting out their childcare. We offer childcare search services finding schools, child-minders, nannies, au-pairs, nurseries, maternity nurses and tutors for parents. This is supported by payroll and employment legal services.Our services help parents all the way through their children’s childhood and we are on hand 12 hours a day every day to support and advise parents who need our help.

Parental Choice was founded five years ago whilst I was on maternity leave with my first child when I realised how complicated and confusing the whole field of childcare was. There were nanny agencies telling me about nannies, local authorities offering contact details for childminders and various websites giving information about different nurseries, but what I really wanted was an easily accessible, central resource where I could find everything childcare-related. I needed clear advice about all my options and even better someone who I could talk to who would understand what I needed for my child and deal with it all for me.

In your opinion, what are some of the main childcare challenges faced by the expat community, and how does Parental Choice address these?

The main childcare challenge that relocating families face is the lack of knowledge of the area and country that they are moving to. Standard relocation services will help find a house and a school but what parents really need to know is their options (rather than just be dumped in the nearest international school) as well as how the admissions process works. In addition most standard relocation services do not deal with the relocating children who are below school age. If a family has a baby and a toddler, it will need to know about nurseries and if both parents are working, they will need to know about childminders or nannies and how to practically sort out such childcare for their children. Parental Choice can look after all these aspects.

Often most of the set-up work when relocating as a family is done by the ‘trailing spouse’ who is not employed by the company and this can be hugely daunting without support. If such a spouse also has a job, the task is monumental as not only will they also be settling into a new job but both parents will have the equally hard task of settling the family into a new country with new schools and unknown childcare systems. Offering support to such families can have a huge impact on the ability of an employee to start performing at a high level as soon as possible and also reassure them that they have made the right decision relocating.

Parental Choice specialises in helping families who are moving to the UK. What are some of the most common questions you are asked by parents who want to relocate there?

The main questions that we get asked are how does the British school system work and how do we recruit a nanny and what is involved. Many parents are unaware how the employment system works in the UK, especially when their home countries have a very different legal system.

Parental Choice explains in depth how to employ a nanny here and will register as a client’s agent with HMRC and draft employment contracts for them so they don’t have to deal with the admin and bureaucracy. We work with them throughout their time here in the UK so it’s not just a case of saying good bye when the search has finished. Our clients will then come back to us to discuss schools and admission procedures and even the benefit of tutors to help their children settle into their chosen UK school. This is particularly helpful where perhaps English is not their first language.

Moving abroad can be even more of a challenge if a child has special needs. What services does Parental Choice provide to help parents in this situation?

Any search involving a child with special needs, whether they are toddlers or teenagers, requires a lot of thought and time spent with the family to ensure we get the childcare exactly right. In a recent search we conducted for a family moving to Switzerland with a teenager with special needs, we spent a lot of time researching schools in their chosen location, speaking to the manager of the school psychology services in that city as well as social workers specialising in the care of adolescents with special needs. We then arranged meetings with those people for the family and compiled a complete report of our research. This was the feedback that we got:

“Parental Choice has been a terrific help researching and investigating options for our son with special needs. As a working mom with a child with special education requirements, mobility is facilitated by organizations like Parental Choice. Before we went on our look-see visit, they interviewed us, understood our needs and proceeded to thoroughly research how the destination market worked. They looked at all options and then set up meetings during our visit that proved very useful for assessing possible educational solutions. It gave us the confidence to move ahead with the new assignment and helped us consolidate what would have been months of work into a few days. They were a great help because they understand special needs and therefore could cut through the research quickly. I’m thrilled their services could be made available as in the past we had to ‘work it out on our own’ creating much more stress and less-than-ideal solutions.” – Female Executive Leader

“Parental Choice have been instrumental in helping us move a senior female Executive that needed additional support around a family member with Special Needs. Our traditional mobility assistance would not have been able to provide the high-touch value add service. Without which, this important talent move may never have happened.” – Senior HR Director at Global Financial Services Firm

You also help people who are looking for native language schools for their children. What can parents do to help increase the chances of their children obtaining a place at one of these schools, which are frequently oversubscribed?

Parental Choice is very much constrained by the limits that native language schools, for example the schools in London based on the French national curriculum, set. It pays for parents to know exactly when applications are accepted and to keep in contact with the schools. We can provide full details of each school including the years they are more likely to get a place than others. We also monitor developments such as when the schools will increase their intake including new school years such as sixth form.

Do you have any general words of advice for families who are thinking of moving abroad for the first time?

I was an expat child as well and moved a lot with my family so I understand well from the experiences I saw my mother go through what is important to any family moving abroad. It pays to be very organised and do as much research as you possibly can in advance. If you can’t access services likes the ones Parental Choice provides and simply have the standard relocation package from your company, then spend the time getting to know the childcare system in the country you are going to and try to understand what you will and will not able to access.

The key for all organisations in successfully managing expatriate assignments is never underestimate the impact difficulties resettling family members will have on the outcome of the posting. Finding providers that will work with your employees on a personal level to really understand their needs and help them source what they need, be it a school place, nursery or nanny will vastly increase the chances of success for both employees and companies.

Finally, when you're not working, what do you like to do in your spare time?

I spend time with my family. Running my own business, even though it’s hard work, means I get the invaluable benefit of being with my children when I want and that is brilliant!

You can find out more about the services Parental Choice provide on their website.