Forgetting the “care” in Childcare
Recently one of our nannies was providing regular respite care to the mother of a young child whose brother had significant special needs, as part of the service we offer to ‘families in crises. This respite service included providing care to the mother’s six-year-old son.
The boy paused and then said, ‘I know you look after me, but what do you do for a job?’
‘I’m your Nanny. My job is to look after you.’
At that the child’s little eyes filled with tears and he said, ‘You mean you get paid to look after me?’
Until that moment the boy had obviously never considered the idea that someone could be paid to provide him with care.
Thinking quickly the nanny replied, ‘Yes, I do get paid, and I love my job. And I don’t get paid any extra for loving you, which I do.’
The reason I share this story is that it demonstrates so clearly the balancing act we all perform – government and service providers and the nannies themselves – in the childcare sector when it comes to assisting vulnerable families.
On one hand the goal is simply to provide compassionate care: to give a vulnerable mother a break, to give a six-year-old boy something ‘solid’ to rely on (in this case a nanny), and to ensure the family gets back on its feet. In the medium term, care such as this reduces the chance that the family will require ongoing government assistance beyond the norm.
On the other hand there is, as the young boy discovered, always a financial transaction involved in these situations. There is a cost to the taxpayer.
To work, the balancing act requires special needs cases to be properly assessed, service providers to work legally and efficiently and compassionately, and government compliance such as the In home Childcare Standards to be followed to the letter.
My concern is that in recent years the balance is tipping towards a greater financial and parental work/study focus and away from child focus.
In effect, all providers and, more importantly, the vulnerable children and parents who benefit, are being penalised. Or, looking at it another way, children in need are being penalised.
This is just one example. There are other examples where a focus on ‘work and study’, ostensibly to encourage mothers back into the workforce as taxpayers, is being favoured for funding over simply providing care where it is needed. In both these cases, the balance is tipping towards financial focus over a focus on care.
There needs to be a better way. A more compassionate, child-focused approach would be to ask, ‘How do we get parents back to work or study while maintaining the necessary level of care to those children who need it?’ A child-focused approach would be to see real value in child care as an end in itself, without it having to provide a financial return. A child-focused approach would be to recognise that in a healthy society, sometimes we need to give the more vulnerable a helping hand.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we all had the courage of my Nanny, and were willing to say to the most vulnerable, ‘We’ll look after you’, and that that was all that needed saying?