Wednesday 18 September 2019

Debate must not add to 'mummy guilt' for hard-working parents

After the RTÉ crèche exposé several years ago, the expectation was that the sector would be better regulated but Tulsa's inspections suggest there's still much to do
After the RTÉ crèche exposé several years ago, the expectation was that the sector would be better regulated but Tulsa's inspections suggest there's still much to do

Chrissie Russell

Dropping the kids to the crèche, there are plenty of things that go through your head. Have I packed their lunch? Did they eat breakfast? Should I let the carer know they had a temperature last night?

Should I let them know I've a meeting later and I'm already stressed out about making it back in time for collection?

The one thing you shouldn't be worrying about - or certainly shouldn't have to be worrying about - is your child's safety.

And yet, this thought will be at the forefront of many parents' minds as they drive away from crèches today.

Money shouldn't come into it - any childcare service should be a safe and regulated service, regardless of how much parents hand over each month - but it's hard to separate cost from quality. Our consumer mentality is built on the concept that 'you get what you pay for'. If you're paying a second mortgage for someone to look after your child, you trust it's safe.

When I read the Early Years Inspectorate Annual Report by child and family agency Tusla, revealing that 46pc of services in their analysis were non-compliant in the area of children's safety - and 38pc were non-compliant in the area of Garda vetting - one of the emotions I felt was relief.

Relief that I don't have to wave goodbye to my two-year-old son and leave him in the care of a stranger.

Relief that, thanks to my husband, my parents and taking a sizeable pay cut, I can stay at home with our child rather than hand out a second salary to a care organisation that may or may not be meeting safety regulations.

I didn't choose to stay at home. It was a decision made for me by the prohibitive costs of childcare. There was, quite simply, no financial justification for me to continue working full time. It's something I've worried about: 'is my son missing out on social interaction?', 'is he getting the same level of stimulation at home as he would in a crèche?'

I see friends proudly displaying cards, toilet roll snowmen and other crèche crafts and wonder is he missing out.

But then I read statistics like those in the Tusla report or hear stories like that of a friend, who recently went to collect his son only to find the child had vanished (he was later found upstairs, staff were oblivious).

After the RTÉ crèche exposé several years ago, the expectation was that the sector would be better regulated but Tulsa's inspections suggest there's still much to do.

The horrific allegations of sexual assault in Kildare are unimaginable. No parent should be dropping their child off to crèche having to worry about that.

My first selfish emotion was relief - let's face it, every parent thinks of their own child first - but my next was anger. Rage for all my friends and all the parents who shouldn't be in the position of having to doubt themselves, who tomorrow will be dropping their children off at childcare while simultaneously worrying.

Mummy guilt - or parental guilt as it should rightly be called - is rife in all elements of child-raising. We're quick to blame ourselves but in this case, it's the State that should be shouldering the burden of guilt.

From conception through to adulthood, we are a nation that doesn't value caring for children. Our maternity services are woefully underfunded, ditto education.

When it comes to childcare, we're in a league of our own, woefully lagging behind other European countries for GDP investment in early years care. The provisions made in the 2017 Budget only benefited one-third of parents.

As a sector, childcare workers are overworked, underpaid and undervalued, with many reporting working for less than €10 per hour. This doesn't excuse facilities that fail to meet the required safety standards - but if the carers themselves aren't being cared for then can we expect them to deliver high-end care?

At a societal level, there is still a tradition to think of childcare as glorified babysitting. The mums and dads who drop the kids off and head off to their offices - they are the real workers. Never mind the qualifications in child-development, the hours of studying, the fact that these are the people charged with fostering the potential of the next generation.

I hope that the Tusla report doesn't negate the great work that is undoubtedly done by so many childcare workers across the country. I hope that it provides enough impetus for greater changes to be made to the system across the board.

I hope this debate doesn't add fuel to the 'mummy guilt' and 'mummy wars'. We need to be united in fighting this one and it's not us who should feel ashamed.

Irish Independent

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