Let me tell you about two wonderful women in my life. They've recently got to know each other and become good friends. They will know who they are.
Both are in their mid 30s (and one of them is, I bet, thanking me for my generous definition of "mid"), both are trained nurses and both are fantastic mothers who share a lot of my parenting values. I know them both extremely well and would trust them not just with my life, but, more importantly, with my child's.
My daughter is happy in the company of both of these women. I could feel completely confident about leaving her with them, and if anything ever happened to me, either one of them would in my judgement be competent to fulfil a "mothering" role for her. They love my daughter, they would look after her as well as they do their own children and I feel very grateful that they are in our lives.
Now, according to the Government, in England at least, one of these women is deemed automatically suitable for me to leave my child with on a regular basis, by virtue of being related to me and the other is not because she's my friend. The other would have to jump through all sorts of hoops before I could legally leave my child with her. She would have to probably buy a fire blanket for her kitchen and put special sheeting on her glass doors. The fact that her own children live in the house is irrelevant - if another is being looked after for really very short periods of time, then the State deems that she would have to be registered as a child minder.
The Government is desperate to get all the adults in a household out to work - because if we work, we pay tax and the enormous deficit we've managed to accrue is paid off quicker, maybe in a squillion years rather than a gazillion. So says the theory anyway.
When women with children go for an interview, it's illegal to ask them what their childcare arrangements are. The interviewer, rightly, is supposed to realise that if someone with children has applied for a job, then they might just have thought about how their offspring will be cared for. Of course, it would never cross anyone's mimd to ask a father about childcare arrangments so these laws are important to prevent discrimination against women.
We have a situation where, still, childcare is seen as primarily the role of the mother. That's not something I actually have a particular problem with, and nor do most mothers I know,to be honest. In most homes, whether we like it or not, it will be the woman who arranges and makes decisions about childcare arrangements, even if both parents work full time. Unless Ed Balls gets off his backside and does something quickly about this ridiculous piece of legislation, women will bear the brunt of having to make alternative arrangments. I can't imagine very many friends participating in an informal childcare arrangement will want to go through the expense and hassle of satisfying an OFSTED person that they are as fit to look after other children as they are to look after their own. Nor would I imagine that they would want to disrupt their lives and move into the child they are looking after's home, where registration is not required. If OFSTED going to break up voluntary child caring arrangements, it's bound to lead to women having to pay much more for childcare, to alter their working arrangements, or maybe even giving up work? So, this piece of excess nanny statism in fact indirectly discriminates against women. I just have this feeling that if childcare were seen as men's responsibility, the State wouldn't interfere so much.
It makes me furious that a Government doesn't credit me with the ability to make appropriate decisions about who should look after my child when I'm out earning taxes for them. Either of the wonderful women I wrote about above are more than qualified to look after her. I personally would much rather that she was in their family environment where she would get a hug if she fell over and nobody would think twice about putting suncream on her in the Summer than anywhere else. It strikes me as very strange that every moment that my child is away from me is regulated to within an inch of its life, yet nobody would challenge me if I smacked her in either public or private. For the record, I never, ever would and I think that it's appalling that the law allows children to be treated in ways that would result in an assault charge if done to an adult.
Of course nurseries and after school clubs should have to meet certain standards, but when it comes to regulating informal arrangments between friends, the Government has gone too far. I need a nursery or an after school club to be registered because I haven't spent a long time getting to know them and sharing experiences with them like I have with my friends. I am far more qualified than an OFSTED inspector to judge whether my daughter will be safe and happy and whether her needs will be met when I'm not there.
Blogging will be light for a while because I'm having a particularly bad spell healthwise, but I couldn't keep quiet about this one.