So, ‘Just Call me Dave’ and I are sat in the pub garden. Lord knows where are kids have gotten to, but we think they are around somewhere, the bodygaurds are probably keeping an eye out. Or the landlord. Hopefully. JCMD sips from his Cosmopolitan and says to me;
“Ok, so, if you don’t breast feed your babies, I am going to take some money away from your local Sure Start centre”.
After I picked up my jaw from the wooden picnic table, I grabbed his Cosmo and threw it in his face.
Well. This may not have actually happened per se, but the facts are the same.
How dare he! I hear you cry! Who on earth does he think he is?! I hear you shout!
Well, he is the Prime Minister is who he is and he knows he can get away with implementing these things. And implementing them he has. Isn’t that infuriating?
Let me go back a few steps.
I have heard along the grapevine that as of next year, Buckinghamshire (where both Chillax Dave and I reside) will be partaking in the “Payment by Results” scheme. This sounds incredibly positive doesn’t it? What it should be called is the “Reach targets or else” scheme. Less positive, more realistic. How I interpret it is that unless the Sure Start Centres here can prove that they are meeting certain targets and goals, the budget of those Sure Start Centres will be affected. Some goals have a thread of sense behind them (encouraging parents to read more at home with their children for example) but some are just plain shocking and completely invasive to those families who do attend these centres.
The one that gets my goat the most is this - the centres have to prove they have a certain number of mothers breastfeeding their children. If they don’t have a certain proportion of members breastfeeding their children, then bye bye money.
*steam comes out of ears*
I can only blog on a personal level about this, and I remind you I am not a Sure Start worker, or a politican, but I am a mother who attends a Sure Start Centre up to 3 times a week. So, a few things;
1) Let’s start with the positives. Yes, providing breastfeeding support and advice and guidance is a brilliant idea. More power to this idea and lets promote this. Let’s make sure mothers and fathers are aware of this available support and have lashings of access to it. Should they wish to. And therein lies the point. Should. They. Wish. To.
2) How on earth would they begin to monitor, honestly and realistically, how many mothers breastfeed? What if someone breastfeeds but also tops up with formula? Are they considered not “true breastfeeders”? What if people lie. Because people do do that, you know, because of lots of reasons. One of them being because they fear what will happen if they tell the truth…oh, wait, yes, if you tell the truth and say you formula feed then you (via your Sure Start Centre) WILL be punished. So yes, give in to the fear and fib.
3) It would involve actually asking mothers if they breastfeed. So, what happens when someone says “no, I don’t breastfeed”. Does the Sure Start Centre shut the door in their face and say
“Sorry! We need a breast feeding mother and you, my dear, simply are not that person. I have a quota to reach. BYE!”
4) People don’t breast feed for a huge variety of reasons. Personal reasons, health reasons, reasons which are their own. I do not breastfeed. I breastFED my boys, but for a matter of weeks only. For reasons I do not wish to share with David Cameron, nor have validated by a politician. I see it as none of his business and irrelevant to my attendance at a Sure Start Centre.
5) Sure Start Centres have children attending up to the age of 5. So what if a Sure Start Centre is in an area where a lot of people only access the centre when their baby is one year plus? The majority of mothers don’t breastfeed after that time. Should THAT centre be penalised?
6) Statistics on breastfeeding will inevitably become fictional and not truly representative or accurate. People will lie about their breastfeeding experience so as to support their centre and ensure their centre still receives their deserved budget. I would. Figures would become ficticious. Ergo made-up. These stats will then consequently sqew-if the future breastfeeding stats that get bandied about in the press.
Because of stupid targets and ideas such as this, the rest of the resources at Sure Start centres will be affected and ultimately suffer. There may be staff cuts. Sessions may be stopped. And why? I don’t know what I would do without my Sure Start Centre. Those people threw me a life raft when I was drowning in a big black pit of Post Natal Depression and continue to support me to this day. They never miss a trick, those people, and are on alert constantly to make sure the members of their community (and that’s what those places are – communities) are doing OK. When the boys were riddled with the pox we didn’t get to go up to our regular centre for a good month, and do you know what the staff did? They worried about us. They phoned me up. Not as busy bodies, not as do-gooders, but as friends and mums themselves who had in the back of their heads
“Have you seen Hannah recently? No me neither. I’ll give her a ring”
They did not let me slip from their radar. They wanted to make sure everything was ok. Over and above their job that, methinks.
I tweeted about this and got a reply from a friend @MiddleScribbler who summed it up. She said it was like this -
Cameron: “let’s give them unachievable targets so when they fail we can take their money”
Clegg: *makes like a nodding dog*
Doesn’t that just sum it up? They want Sure Start centres to fail. Shame on you, David Cameron. Shame on you.
Whilst I fully appreciate that Sure Start is part of a long term scheme to promote parenting skills and help those struggling, to enforce targets such as this could actually work against that, surely? What people like JCMD and Noddy (Clegg) don’t realise is the staff at these centres are doing an incredibly difficult job, and doing it with amazing talent, respect for their members and grace. People of varying backrounds go to these centres and it is the job of the staff to meet every single variety of needs. An incredibly difficult job to do, I should imagine.
Provide advice, guidance and support yes! But take away resources if a certain target isn’t hit? Ridiculous.
Your thoughts? I would be very interested to hear them. And all views expressed will get approved for comment.