I received an enchantingly anonymous email from, let’s call them NannyBlog.org, this morning. (Some details have been changed slightly).
We spend a lot of time researching articles before we sit down to write them and as we are researching we take note of sites that we would like to share the article with when we are done. As we were writing “Ten Reasons We’ve Just Made Up About Why Kids Should Sleep in Their Own Beds That Have No Basis In Fact” and posted it here: (http://www.nannyblog.org/ten-reasons-we-made-up-why-kids-
Thank you for your time!
This annoyed me a lot, so I will share with you, my readers a completely different blog post.
This time, it’s personal.
I can take a freeze in tax credits. Somehow, I’ll manage to pay higher council tax bills. Although the bedroom tax is deeply unfair, since I’m in private rented accomodation, it doesn’t affect me. Universal Credit is going to make my life much harder, but I’ll adapt to it, and I also won’t be the first to be transferred onto it. Fortunately, I don’t have cancer, so ATOS can’t deem me fit for work, and thankfully, neither of my children are disabled so I’m not going to be struggling on without medium-rate disability benefit.
But take away my child’s nursery provision?
This makes me angry.
You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.
I can’t explain how much it means to me, that four mornings a week, my daughter gets superb childcare. They play with jelly. They play with shaving foam. They do paintings. They have far more toys than I can afford, or would ever want to tidy away. They do yoga. They do the hokey cokey, and she comes back singing. It’s not easy for a two-year-old to leave her mum – it’s not really natural, if you think about it – but the intelligent, involved, amazing women who care for her when I’m not there ensure that she has the best time she possibly can. They also have ninja reflexes, and appear to have eyes in the backs of their heads.
The Government have recently announced More Great Childcare, their mockingly, ironically-titled plans for nursery provision in England. It’s hard to penetrate through the double-speak. Most media reporting hasn’t really tried. But let’s unpick exactly how “the Government will achieve its vision of a dynamic childcare market”.
By increasing the workload of nursery workers. They will look after four babies, not three, or six toddlers, not four. In what other profession would workers, already paid near the minimum wage, be expected to endure a 50% increase in their workload? There will be no commensurate reduction in the ridiculous amount of paperwork, checkboxes and targets that they have to fill out on each child.
The Government has claimed that changing the ratios will result in higher wages for staff. It won’t. With more childcare workers chasing fewer jobs, market forces will drive wages down.
By decreasing the personal care attention that babies receive. All the recent developmental research reaffirms how vitally important it is for babies and very young children to have one-to-one attention. How is this possible when one worker has four babies to attend to? Any time one of them is getting their nappy changed, that leaves seven babies to one adult!
By cramming kids into buildings. There will be no minimum standards for space and layout in nurseries. At the moment, they have to have a private room for parents to talk to staff about sensitive issues. Children have a legally mandated minimum amount of space to play. Not any more. Welcome to battery-farmed babies!
By reducing the range of activities available to children. My daughter does supervised vegetable-chopping at nursery. They take her on walks to an arboretum. Activities like these will not be possible under the new regime. Even with a constricted ‘ultra-safe’ and less adventurous curriculum, fewer staff will still mean more upsets and more accidents for young children.
What about children suffering emotional neglect at home? At the moment, nursery care can really help them. But that’s only true when staff can devote current levels of care and attention. Park them in a McNursery, delivering minimal care for maximum profit, and you’ve just compounded the problem. All society suffers when the basic neurological needs of babies and very young children go unmet.
By pimping out childminders. At the moment, childminders are all self-employed, but the Tories have spotted a chance for large corporate ‘care’ providers to cream a profit off them. McChildminding agencies will be set up, that will take a cut of childminders’ wages. Only a ‘sample’ of agency McChildminders will be inspected by Ofsted, and that worries me. Ofsted are very strict in the safety requirements for childminders’ homes. Agencies will not have the same incentive to preserve safety standards; they will be interested in getting staff as quickly as possible, and maximising the number of children on the books.
Why would parents choose agency McChildminders over the individual, self-employed traditional arrangement? “Flexibility”. At the moment, when your childminder is sick, you have to take time off work. But now, an agency can substitute an alternative carer! Hang on a minute? How would that feel for a pre-verbal child, to be placed in the home of a complete stranger? It will provoke anxiety and distress. In this ‘flexible’ arrangement, it’s the baby that’s being stressed.
This will become the norm. Sure, childminders don’t have to join agencies, but they will all be in competition with them. And parents will find it very difficult to argue with an intransigent employer “I can’t come in today because I need to look after my baby – the childminder is ill,” when their boss can say “ring an agency”. How can they claim that this isn’t OK, when the Government says that it is?
Of course, to maximise profits in the McChildminding sector, you have to increase the child to staff ratios there too. They will now have four toddlers, not three, and two babies, not one. As though two babies are the same as one! As though the job is equivalent! These aren’t twins – childminders are already allowed to look after twins – they can be two unrelated babies, at completely different developmental stages, but both with the same overarching need for individual attention.
It shows how much the Government undervalues mothering. Childminders and nursery workers are paid to mother. The job is one of the hardest there is. And these ‘reforms’ (I use the word with complete disdain) will make it exponentially harder. I mean that ‘exponentially’. Looking after six children is not 50% harder than looking after four. It can be fifty times harder. I would like to see a Cabinet minister try it, for one day, for the hours that nursery workers work, and for the wages they earn.
There is a lot in the report about increasing the qualifications of nursery staff. They claimed in the press launch that a Maths and English GCSE would become a minimum requirement. This Guardian letter-writer sums up my feelings on this…
Are we going to sack dedicated and outstanding individuals for not having enough GCSEs? The qualities I look for in a childcare professional are patience, kindness, gentle boundaries, inventiveness and an ability to provide food, rest and cuddles as required. These qualities don’t necessarily come with a certificate, but no academic achievement on the planet would persuade me to leave my kids with someone who didn’t have them.
Having said that, it’s not necessarily even true. The ‘consultation’ paper carries a variety of suggestions for minimum qualifications for staff:
4 What qualifications do you think staff should have to allow them to operate with these more flexible arrangements? For instance, we could require settings to meet one of the following criteria in order to be able to operate higher ratios:
Please note these examples are not exhaustive and we would welcome other suggestions.
So nothing has actually been decided about minimum qualifications, and nothing will necessarily be mandated. This is a side issue. The ‘meat’ of the document is in the relaxation of ratios, and the abandoning of standards of space and layout. The qualifications issue is just hot pepper sauce – there to distract people from the true flavour of the proposals.
Supporting providers to develop their own national standards
As frontline professionals have more flexibility to respond to the needs of children in their care, so the onus for developing and maintaining professional standards in settings will increasingly shift to providers themselves. The providers that can demonstrate a strong commitment to quality will be the ones that flourish, as parents become ever more demanding consumers of their services.
We want to make it easier for the entrepreneurs running good and outstanding nurseries to move into new areas, where there is not sufficient high quality provision.
This is from the final paragraph of the More Great Nurseries document. Discovering sneaky end paragraphs like these always makes me glad that I’ve gone to the original Government document (not the media reports of it) and that I have paid attention all the way to the end.
It would appear that More Great Childcare actually mandates for a two-tier system, where large McNurseries can write their own regulations. Let’s read that again: “the onus for developing and maintaining professional standards… will increasingly shift to providers themselves.” And not just any providers, particularly those that “flourish”, for which read – ‘are highly profitable, enjoy economies of scale, and are in a position to move into new market areas’. (Not ones which, like my daughter’s nursery, plough all their profits back into creating an exciting, enjoyable and safe environment for the children in their care.) There is nothing about this in the consultation document, and it’s a very worrying concept to include in a throwaway paragraph at the end of a 40 page pdf. So, are the Government introducing complete deregulation for “providers that… flourish”, or not?
And what exactly are those “new areas, where there is not sufficient high quality provision.” Would those be the same areas where drastic cuts to Local Authority funding have led to state-funded nursery closures? Exit Sure Start. Enter McNursery.
We do need more great childcare. This is a vitally important issue, for working women, for single parents, for childcare workers themselves, who are woefully underpaid, and for babies. State provision of well-staffed, quality nurseries, is the most efficient way to deliver cheaper nursery care. The minimum wage should be increased to something that approaches the living wage, leaving parents with more money for childcare. And it is ridiculous that childcare is not tax-deductible – it is an employment expense. But there is nothing in this legislation that will reduce the cost of childcare to parents, and everything that will reduce the quality of care for children. Parents will end up paying extra for nursery care that meets the old staffing ratios. And it will end up costing us, as a society, in more ways than one.
Do you know what really gets me? That this legislation won’t really affect me personally. My daughter will be three in September, when the changes come in. She’ll move up into the pre-school class. She won’t need such close supervision. And she’s bright, she’s cute, she’s articulate – she won’t be starved of attention. Yet again, my family will have got away with something (like the bedroom tax, like the Universal credit, like the medium-rate disability allowance) that will hit other families hard. So I don’t have to get angry for her. I’m angry for the other kids, the quiet kids, the sad kids, the stressed kids, the kids with additional needs, the kids who really really need good quality childcare.
Please look out for them too.
This is a winnable campaign. The Government recently did a U-turn over GCSEs. They will drop these proposals too, if they get enough opposition. I set up a Facebook group More Great Childcare, to co-ordinate opposition, and I have made this leaflet, to publicise the issue. Please right-click it, download it, forward it, share it, repost it, print it out, hand it out, get your response in to the consultation, unionise, publicise, and stop McNurseries.
I’m appearing at the Association of Breastfeeding Mothers’ Annual Conference on June 8th in Birmingham. As is the Analytical Armadillo, which is great, because I am a fan.
I wonder what she will be like in real life, with her scaly outer armour, and soft furry underbelly…
This amuses me, because it sums up how I feel about bottle-feeding baby toys. They are ubiquitous, and they are annoying.
So, imagine my delight when the news breaks that a Breast Milk Baby doll is now on sale in the UK. You can’t buy it in the Early Learning Centre, mind, or Toys R Us, or supermarkets, or any actual toy shops. You can only buy it online, but still, it is for sale. And I wouldn’t actually buy one, because it’s sixty quid for a bit of plastic tat, and it’s hideously gendered, but still, it’s good that it exists.
Unfortunately, Breast Milk Baby seems to elicit the same strong emotions in other mothers that Bottle Milk Baby does in me. Cue Moral Panic. Enter the Daily Mail from stage [far] right with an article entitled “Now the Breastapo are using toys to brainwash our children” (I’m not making this up!). The Jeremy Vine show, sniffing a potential fight, then invite both me and Daily Mail author Kitty Dimbleby on air to have some kind of slanging match, or slinging match, I suppose, because it’s about babies.
Actually, it was all very civilised.
I feel for Kitty Dimbleby. She didn’t come on the JV show to complain about toys, she was there because she’s formula feeding, and she feels like a second class citizen. New mums like her are at the rough end of the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative, which states that groups of mums can’t be taught how to bottle feed in hospital. This is to stop formula milk companies from swanning about on hospital wards pretending that they’re medical professionals, which they used to do, and would still if they could get away with it. Kitty Dimbleby isn’t going to remember what it used to be like in UK hospitals, but my mother in law does:
Having said that, women should be given proper information if they’re feeding formula, and they would get that in hospital if our maternity services were properly funded. There’s nothing to stop staff from showing individual mums how to make up bottles – the prohibition is against group demonstrations. But maternity ward staff simply don’t have the time. Out in the community, public health budgets are channelled into breastfeeding support, because it’s the healthiest option for mums and babies, but also because it can take time, knowledge and support to establish. By comparison, formula feeding is relatively straightforward – the instructions come on the side of the tin.
Whatever limited resources public health bodies put into breastfeeding support, they’re pitted against the virtually unlimited budgets of the formula milk companies. Wanna know how Nestle became the largest food company in the world?
All the money formula milk companies spend on advertising, they recoup from parents’ forking out for their product. This isn’t fair on Kitty either.
Wanna know the answer? Make formula milk available on prescription. There will always be parents who can’t breastfeed – single dads are a good example – why should they pay for something that is a medical necessity for their child? I also think it’s a travesty that we pay VAT on infant bottles and expressing pumps – items for infant nutrition, breast or bottle, are not a luxury!
If formula milk was provided by the health service, then mums would get vital contact with a medical professional at the point when they first start to bottle feed. Since 90% of mothers who stop breastfeeding before six months don’t want to, there’s a clear need for it. If, in our society, people were prescribed formula where there’s a compelling reason for it, that would help mums like Kitty hold their head high. It stops formula feeding mums being the puppets of milk company marketing; it stops being about image, or advertising, and instead becomes about medical need.
Kitty feels guilty, she feels demonised and she feels defensive. Well show me a new mum who doesn’t feel guilty, or confused? But maybe the biggest confusion here among bottle feeding mums is that breastfeeding supporters are out to get them. Every time I see a mother feeding a bottle, I know there’s a back story there. She might have arrived at this point after an agonising journey of frustration and failure. Breastfeeding counsellors know all about this. It’s their job.
I’m assuming Ms Dimbleby hasn’t read my book, but if she did she might be surprised. As well as plenty of information on how to safely make up infant formula, she could read statements such as “there’s nothing wrong with formula milk… for some mothers and babies, it ends up being a good option.” “There will always going to be mothers and babies who find [breastfeeding] difficult, and we should recognise that and support women in whatever way they choose to feed their babies.” “Let’s forget successful breastfeeding, and talk about successful mothering. That means doing those things, whatever they are, that make it easier for you to love your child and to parent in the way that you want to.”
“Breastapo?” I think not.
Oh yeah, and the dolls? They’re just toys. Maybe we should all play a little more, and fret a little less.
I feel that this lady hasn’t had enough exposure.
It’s remarkable how this image crosses a boundary. We’re allowed to lactate, but not visibly, and images of actual milk coming from an actual breast are particularly taboo. With no healthy visual reference points, our society seems to view this as analogous to male ejaculation. Shame on us!
Dammit. I just ran out of copies! Check back next week and I may have some more to sell.
You can now buy copies of The Food of Love directly from me! This enriches me slightly more than the 60p a copy I make from Amazon sales. It’s £15 including p+p, which is cheaper than the NCT shop (though I love the NCT and advise you to buy lots of other things from them!) I will write a dedication in your copy too if you want.
Unfortunately, I can’t beat Amazon on price, but then, Amazon can buy them cheaper than I can. Spit! Spit! Amazon is evil – it has killed all the independent bookshops – however it does provide a forum for readers to upload their reviews of my book. I like to read my reviews any time I’m feeling depressed. For example, this is the latest one:
“I buy this book for all of my pregnant friends as it literally the best book ever written. So informative and easy to pick up and put down. Totally down to earth and hilarious at times. I would not have succeeded breastfeeding my son if it wasn’t for this book, and I still use it now with my second baby when I’m stuck. This book can tell you absolutely everything you need to know about breastfeeding and gives you a solution for any problem. Much more helpful than any midwife or health visitor I’ve ever met! I suffered from blocked ducts a lot with my first baby and this book helped me through those painful nights with loads of excellent advice.
Isn’t that lovely? I don’t know this woman. I haven’t paid her anything to write this.
“Absolutely amazing book. Full of accurate information, easy to read, and really funny. Non-judgemental, full of cartoons, I read this from cover to cover while feeding my baby. It is my must-buy for all of my pregnant friends… It supports what’s natural and nice for babies and mums, rather than giving lots of ‘should do’s’ and ‘must-do’s, making it easy to go with the flow and get comfortable breastfeeding. Can’t recommend it enough, it’s the best baby book I have ever come across.”x
“This book was shown to me by my mother in-law its sooooo funny has you in stitches the illustration is great i love the stretch mark mum so worth a buy you wont be disappointed”
I find the cheering effect lasts through the negative reviews too:
“After reading this book I just got this vision in my head that the author is sitting in this messy house with piles of laundry, unwashed hair and a child permanently attached to her breast, and everything around her is just chaos.”
Spooky! This reviewer has been round to my house and looked in the windows! Pretty damn accurate. I’m not ashamed.
So, back on the subject of JUST BUY IT!!!!!!!!!!! it’s £15 with free UK postage and a dedication if you want one.
I haven’t got any! But try again next week.
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