Monday, 28 September 2009

Real choice for childcare

Every mother is a working mother. Remember that feminist affirmation from the 70s? In Québec, a popular play about stay-at-home mothers was entitled "Maman travaille pas; elle a trop d'ouvrage." - translation: Mom doesn't have a job; she's got too much work at home.

We had hoped that in spite of small gains, the world had moved beyond prejudices about working mothers, that things had evolved and some obstacles had been removed.

It would appear that Britain has taken a big step backwards. Two female detective constables were threatened with prosecution if they didn't drop the reciprocal child care support they've arranged with each other over 2 years.

The Children's Minister has ordered a review of the case of two police officers told they had broken the law by caring for each other's children.

Ofsted said the arrangement contravened the Childcare Act because it lasted for longer than two hours a day, and constituted receiving "a reward". It said the women would have to be registered as childminders.

Minister Vernon Coaker said his department was talking to Ofsted about this particular case. According to the Mail on Sunday, Ofsted told two detective constables, Leanne Shepherd, from Milton Keynes, and Lucy Jarrett, from Buckingham, to end their arrangement.

'Stunned' Ms Shepherd told the newspaper: "When the Ofsted inspector turned up, the first thing she said was: 'I have had a report that you're running an illegal childminding business'. "I straightaway thought she must be mistaken, so invited her into my home to explain we were police officers and best friends helping each other out. "But she told me I was breaking the law and must end the arrangement with Lucy immediately. "I was stunned, completely devastated... I couldn't see how I could continue working."

Reward is not just a case of money changing hands. The supply of services or goods and, in some circumstances, reciprocal arrangements can also constitute reward Ofsted spokesman. ...

Thames Valley Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file officers, said the pair had its "full support". Secretary Andy Viney said: "Both of them are experienced professional officers. "They just want to return to work after having children and have found that the system is working totally against them.

Ofsted is the Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills which inspects and regulates care for children and young people in Britain. Someone used the whistleblower's hotline to rat out Leanne and Lucy. Did this busy-body think their children were at risk, being cared for by their own mothers and a close family friend? Was it an envious neighbour or perhaps a sexist colleague?

The BBC News has an interview with officers Shepherd and Jarrett,
here. And more at the Daily Mail and the Guardian.

As much as I hate to agree with Margaret Thatcher, this seems to me like the worst of a "nanny state" type of interference. Mind-boggling.


Greg said...

Sounds dumb and invasive, but wouldn't the same thing happen in Ontario?

I think it would happen if you had three kids and so did the neighbour you alternated babysitting with. At that point, the six kids would constitute an illegal day care. Maybe. Hard to say.

deBeauxOs said...

In Britain, family members are exempt from the regulations. Why? Is it assumed that they're competent child care givers? More accountable?

Beverley Smith said...

Hello from Canada where we are following this issue closely. Under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, children have the right to be raised in the presence of parents wherever possible and parents have the right to determine the care style since they are deemed the most attuned to the 'best interests' of the child. So the gold standard for care of a child is does the parent approve of it? The whole basis of daycare and nanny legislation is to protect the health and safety of the child and to nurture the child so the parents can feel their standards are met. If we have a sitter providing care of a child informally and the parent chose and knows that sitter's values and style well, we have already therefore by definition met the standard that parent requires. It is ludicrous for big brother to waltz in and claim there is another way to get the parent happy than letting the parent decide. The ultimate illogic of course is having a tax plan where if the parent provides care of the child herself, this is not funded care and not called 'childcare' or early education at all. One can pretty well assume that a parent providing care will meet the standards they believe in since they are the ones doing the care role. Many in fact are at home parents precisely because of the way they define what is best care for that particular child. So again it is completely illogical for the state to intervene and devalue this care as if somehow it was substandard. It is by definition gold standard. What we need is government to trust parental judgment and to fund kids not daycares or other centres. Funded directly, kids have the money travelling with them so parents are able to choose any care style they endorse - including family-based care. That meets the gold standard. It also reduces lawsuits, eliminates child poverty and reduces anxiety and depression for parents and kids. Of course big business objects since it prefers to create industries with labor union involvement for daycare use and government is short-sighted and wants women earning and paying their individual tax rather than thinking long term creating citizens so in 20 years you have 4-5 taxpayers.

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