Government Gone Mad

The case of two female police officers who have been subjected to accusations of running an illegal childminding business seems to exemplify the new England.

Someone – apparently a neighbour – anonymously reported that detective constable Leanne Shepherd, who has a two-year-old daughter Edie, had a reciprocal childcare arrangement with her job share partner and friend DC Lucy Jarrett, who also has a toddler, Amy, aged three.

After an unannounced visit from Ofsted established this was indeed the case, the two families were ordered to stop the arrangement forthwith as neither was registered as a childcare provider with the appropriate authorities.

Surely this is painful, monstrous nonsense? “It was devastating, I was crying all day. Every day Edie says ‘going to see Amy?’, but it’s just not possible,” said Shepherd, who has had to place her daughter in an expensive private nursery so she can continue working.

But what price a child’s tears, a broken relationship she was developing that was “like sisters”, the comfort of being picked up ready for bed in her pyjamas from the intimate setting of her “auntie’s”? Against the need to comply with the regulations, these appear to count for nothing.

Part of the monstrous conceit of this endless extensions of the apparatus of control is that what it does is make children safer and their lives better. But is there any evidence of that? Is there any evidence that children cared for in loving and intimate relationships arranged by their parents fare worse than those in state-registered nurseries, some of which tick the boxes but feel like little more than child-containment facilities? Is there any evidence that all child abusers’ names are held on a central register, simply waiting to be checked?

We have all been horrified by the detailed accounts of abuse of some children. But, like children threatened with the bogeyman, we have become so terrified that we are becoming frightened of everything, all but losing our wits when a stair creaks in the night or an owl hooting in the bushes. To keep us calm we put our faith in essentially futile rules, like a child who has to do their pyjamas in exactly the same order every night or step over the cracks in the pavement for fear of being swallowed up.

Life for children – or anyone else – cannot be made completely safe. There is no perfect solution when it comes to childcare. Choices have to be made and many of them rest on fine judgements. Parents can do some things for their children that the state can’t do – such as love them. They are the people who must make these decisions.

Creating this raft of insane rules is simply creating more anxiety and fear. Mothers have been blogging in the wake of this story wondering if regular babysitting, or having friends to play, or accepting boxes of chocs as thank yous now amounts to breaking the law. Unsurprisingly, given the debate this case has generated, the children’s minister has now ordered a review of the “babysitting ban”.

Orwell, who loved English ordinariness and individuality, and praised what he called “the privateness” of English life, would have been appalled.

Posted on September 28, 2009 in Children and Society

  • Ellen says:

    Actually, Donna, it just happened in Michigan. Here’s a link to a news report about a Michigan woman who’s been busted for watching her neighbor’s kids, for free, for anywhere from 15 minutes to 40 minutes before they got on the bus, so their parents could get to work on time.

  • donna says:

    Thanks, Ellen! I had only just posted this piece when I turned to one of the blogs I regularly read and there was the story you’ve sent us a link to! I thought “no way!” – what a bizarre bit of timing.
    So I’ve been following these two stories and it looks like that in both cases the Officials involved are talking about changing the laws – and that’s great. But what concerns me is the limited thinking and atrophied creativity that led to such ridiculous laws in the first place – and not just that of the teeny tiny-brained people who created these laws, but the seriously scary people who implement them. Who are these people?! And I just am not interested in the excuse “it’s to protect children” – sorry, that old chestnut has worn thin under over-use. Children do not need laws and strangers to protect them – they need their parents. And parents need societies which value parenting and family life so that they can parent as best they can – societies which value work at living wages (anyone remember the 40 hour week? when workers died fighting for that one 100 years ago, the point was not only to be not forced to work more hours than any human being should, but to be able to live on the wages one earned in the course of those hours), value mothering, value childhood…and so on. Laws can be helpful as guides – but they can’t change human behavior. And they can’t anticipate all the uncountable perambulations of human life and thus their effect can be worse than what they are meant to help in the first place.

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