Sunday, 3 February 2013

New childcare plans: incoherent spiel

The incoherent spiel is mine (although I suspect the government has also produced some incoherent spiel on the topic) as I am sure I haven't clearly thought this through.

You know I'm a fan of larger families, so I understand that complaining about quotas of how many children a person can take care of may come off as a bit rich. And I'd rather the government incentivise parents to stay at home to provide pre-school care for their children than fund childcare in a way that pushes encourages women back to work, anyway. However, 3rdSister (aged 2 and a half) currently attends a playgroup setting for 2 three-hour sessions per week, which is beneficial to us both (I'm also on the Committee, and we've been talking about this particular issue since 2012.) So, I feel I do have a vested interest in how many children our UK childcare workers are encouraged to look after. (As well as being opinionated about it in a largely uninformed way.)

The facts are: previously, childminders (who care for children in their home) and other childcare workers employed by both nurseries and playgroups, were permitted to care for a certain ratio of under fives (1 adult: 4 two year olds). Myself, I would have struggled with that, even ~ I have enough on giving my 2 year old one-to-one care and attention on a physical, developmental and emotional basis, and I don't have to fill a form or checklist about it later and endure assessments. I do, of course, try to strengthen our bond as well during that time as a) come 3.30pm she's vying for attention with two very noisy and loquacious big girls and b) I'm 31 weeks pregnant and, um, a teeny bit drained. So, I'm possibly trying to do more than your average childcare worker, I'm trying to be a mother. And I gather that childcare workers aren't there to be substitute parents, although they are expected to contribute more to a child's welfare than a mere command and control method. Some days command & control, keeping children alive, basically, is as much as I'm going to manage, to be honest, and I've always said, hats off to those who work in the cacophony and chaos of a pre-school setting.

And now they are putting the numbers up - now it is proposed that one adult can look after SIX two year olds in a childcare setting! I find this incomprehensible!

I'm not saying this CAN'T physically be done, my own failings in this area notwithstanding. (Although the columnist Zoe Williams makes a hilarious case for why it can't.) Corralling and entertaining a large number of under-fives isn't impossible. It's an intensive, exhausting role but  it's not impossible. (And I think it's underpaid, obviously. Childcare workers, ditto care home workers and nurses, are inherently undervalued in our society, socially and financially. As, ahem, are parents.)  But it's possible.

But paying attention to the physical needs of children this age just isn't enough. The government inspectorate OFSTED themselves require various boxes ticked regarding what activities are provided, in addition to managing toilet needs, meals, snacks and ensuring they stay where you put them. How, looking after 6 two-year olds, do you manage to have an individual chat with each of them, expose them to the exact area of learning they are supposed to be experiencing or pay attention to their unique needs?

The proposed changes come in the guise of 'raising quality'. It is suggested that qualifications need to be raised for this to happen - specifically, basic Maths and English qualifications, as far as I can gather, rather than the need for becoming genetically spliced with an octopus, or additional years experience. But how does this actually help? Ensure you can count to 6 time and time again, as you check on your charges? And raising wages for those looking after more children ~ in theory, the new system is going to let more children through the doors and provide 'better value' for parents who pay for childcare. But as I mentioned, it's already a ludicrously underpaid sector. There will be diminishing returns. There is already a large chunk of parents who would not place their children in a childcare environment if they weren't feeling the need to go out to work themselves. How on earth is splitting someone's responsibilities 6 ways going to raise quality of care? I just don't get it!

As I said, being an advocate of the 'larger' family (by which I mean, sadly, more than two kids, in this day and age) I may seem to be giving out mixed messages. But, the more little people you introduce into a family, the more joyous bonding and special interactions you get, as well as increased work. You have siblings who will make each other chocolate spread sandwiches, snuggle up together and forge a little team, rather than a group of peers of the same age, with similar needs, vying for the attention, hitting prone position the minute they need to go in a buggy, kicking off about what they are wearing, eating, doing, can't be only MY 3 girls who have been definitely terrible two year olds. Twin two-year olds would have been fun enough. SIX of them?!

So there you have it. An inconclusive ramble, perhaps, but my thoughts on some absolute idiocy the UK Government seems to have come up with, this week. Tune in soon for next week's instalment ;-)

1 comment:

  1. As a ten year ex-vet of childcare, I couldn't agree with you more. There is absolutely NO way that childcare workers will be able to cope with this and provide sufficient care and attention to each child. Higher qualifications won't put more hours in the day, and the level of paperwork expected already takes many beyond their outer limits.

    My only hope is that more and more parents will prefer to stay home and care for their children themselves rather than place them under such divided attention (however well intentioned) and that the Government's plan for forcing more people back to work, for forcing more pressure on childcarers and nurseries and for abandoning commitment to the needs of our most vulnerable age group, will backfire in glorious style and somehow re-institute a nationwide commitment to family.

    If you're interested, Margot Sutherland's book 'What every parent needs to know' (and which should be titled 'What every person needs to know') provides fascinating insights into the neurological development of the child's brain and provides (to my mind) conclusive evidence that this new plan of the Governments is negligence tantamount to abuse.