Businesses need to step up the support offered to employees with dependent children, according to a Northern Irish charity.

Nora Smith, policy and information manager for Employers For Childcare Charitable Group, claimed that more needs to be done to help the parents of children with disabilities and special needs to stay in employment.

She said: “I think that employers need to be more understanding of families, in order to be able to help their work and their current responsibilities.”

There are currently an estimated 770,000 disabled children under the age of 16 in the UK.

According to disability charity, Contact a Family, 99.1 per cent of these children live at home and are cared for by their families.

Research carried out by the organisation last year revealed that in two-parent households only 27 per cent of families with disabled children are in a situation where both parents work full time.

Lack of access to specialised childcare coupled with insufficient knowledge of the financial support available has meant that many parents are forced to adapt their employment patterns or stay out of work altogether.

There are currently some provisions offered to employees parenting children with disabilities.

Parental leave for employees with disabled children has been extended from the normal thirteen weeks to eighteen, and families can take advantage of various benefits and entitlements to ease the strain of childcare.

However, Miss Smith believes that there is more to be done to raise awareness and provide support for parents, particularly around the issue of paternity leave.

“A lot of fathers – especially around the [area of] childcare vouchers – don’t realise that they can apply for family-friendly working policies too and can have access to the childcare vouchers,” she said.

By adopting a more flexible approach and providing greater help and support, employers can become more accommodating and work towards creating an inclusive workplace for parents of disabled children.