My open letter sent today to the Prime Minister after hearing the plans to throw yet another manifesto pledge to the ‘free childcare’ fiasco…..
“I am writing to plead with you to not increase the ‘FREE’ childcare currently in place as it is contributing to the closure of nurseries and childminder places and instead look at an issue that has the ability to impact on the future of our beautiful nation that I know you are passionate about.
Motherhood may seem trivial to you in the face of Brexit, however, I have seen recent articles showing your passion to make significant changes to our country for the better, most recently looking at our state prisons. However, families are under the most pressure they have been in a long time and having a baby is now one of the most stressful and difficult journeys to experience for many.
There is a significant rise in a number of issues surrounding motherhood:
- Stillbirth and neonatal death
- Emergency birth outcomes
- Premature birth
- Maternal mental health concerns
- Mental health in under 5’s
As you can imagine, the Government is spending millions on firefighting these issues after they have occurred when prevention, although costs money, would save much more in the long term. You will be seeing an increased demand on the NHS maternity services, mental health services (both for parents and their children), as well as SEN and all of this subsequently affects the future workforce!
There are some key areas that need to be addressed urgently if you want to make a huge difference to families and the long term future of the country:
- Maternity services – these services are so stretched that many key pregnancy issues are being missed leading to the increase in stillbirth & neonatal death as well as a need for maternal mental health services. There are over 100,000 more births in a year than there are midwives available. This is contributing to a number of the points above.
- SMP (Statutory Maternity Pay) was supposedly overhauled a number of years ago but instead of this having a positive impact on motherhood it has had a dramatic opposite effect. Previously, women were required to give up work and start their maternity from 11 weeks before their due date but at the latest 6 weeks before. This meant that they had the time to rest and de-stress which is particularly key to the wellbeing of a pregnancy. Stress during pregnancy has the ability to cause premature birth, neonatal death, maternal mental health concerns, anxiety in babies leading to developmental concerns throughout life potentially resulting in more severe mental health concerns in adulthood and SEN concerns. New research has again reinforced this. To maximise the time with their baby after the birth many women are working up to or very close to their due date. This is having an enormous detrimental affect on both the wellbeing of mum, the pregnancy and the unborn baby and is a great contributing factor to most of the points above! Because the goal posts of the 6 months paid leave just shifted, SMP was not improved in any way, it was just packaged to make Mums feel they had choices – what does a mum choose? Time with their baby after birth but the impact of stress is already done or time before the birth to de-stress but forced back to work early because of the financial strain? Some choice Prime Minister!
- There is another side to SMP and that is causing more stress and financial hardship. In order to have more time with their baby after the birth, a mum’s only choice is to take further unpaid leave – few families have that much to spare to save at least 6 months of salary to do this! Then, when they do return to work they have to find their first month of childcare fees upfront but don’t get paid until they have worked a month – again putting even more financialpressure on a family when they are already stressed and emotional!
Prime Minister, if you really want to make a difference to families, change the worrying trends of premature births, neonatal deaths, maternal mental health concerns and the mental wellbeing of children, then make a difference from the very beginning, when they are at their most vulnerable financially and their wellbeing is at risk:
- A pregnancy is at risk, especially from the effects of stress, from the very beginning. New information should be provided to mums registering their pregnancy (usually around 6 weeks) regarding stress, especially if working and ways they can combat it. I run a campaign each year in June to highlight this called Routine in the Womb.
- Maternity services need desperate funding to ensure much better care throughout the pregnancy as well as during the birth. If I had not been with my daughter throughout her entire pregnancy but more importantly her birth, she and my granddaughter would have been chalked up as another number in the statistic of neonatal death and also possibly death during childbirth! At one point during her birth debacle there was one newly qualified midwife left covering a whole ward of 17 ladies, many in active labour, such was the nature of numerous emergencies, including my daughter and sadly a bereavement for another mum!
- The start of SMP should again be brought forward to at least 6 weeks prior to their due date as a requirement and ideally 9 weeks.
- SMP needs to be extended and at full pay to at least 6 months (ideally 1 year), with a further 6 months at a reduced rate if necessary. Forcing mums back to work because of the financial need under the current SMP rules means most mums are returning when their baby is between 7-9months. This is a key stage in a baby’s development called separation anxiety and is greatly contributing to the mental health concerns we are seeing in both mums and their babies. However, it is causing great pressure to be placed on care staff who are literally ‘left holding the baby’ at a key time when baby should absolutely be with their mum! Babies take much longer to settle in to their care setting causing them great stress during that time and his in turn creates great stress amongst a childcare workforce that is already under pressure and stressed to hits maximum! You could be resolving a number of issues addressing this!
- Mums/parents need parenting support during their baby’s first year (ideally up until they go to school at 5yrs) in the form of classes and groups. Baby & child development is falling behind at a worrying rate and is one of the reasons you are having to put so much funding in to ‘Free Childcare’.
- Finally, a word on ‘free’ childcare. It is not free as funding never covers its actual cost. At the very least you need to change the wording to subsidized. More importantly, there needs to be a clean line between childcare and education. Many schools are forcing parents to ‘take a free nursery space’ in order to secure a reception place, yet they do not have the necessary facilities to care for the children all day for working families. Also, due to the regression in developmental stages many ‘teachers’ are finding they are under pressure to deal with issues such as toilet training etc. Education should be from 5 years old. Childcare should be for the under 5’s. Allowing schools to take children at an every younger age in ‘nursery’ but still following school times etc, is just forcing the whole ‘under 5’s sector’ to fight over funding and places which is detrimental to the outcomes you are ultimately hoping to achieve!
I implore you to listen to someone who has owned and operated nurseries for 25 years and now works directly with pregnant mums, I am also a mum and now a grandmother. I have seen so many Government policies come and go and the devastation they have caused along the way. I know your focus will now be the general election, but now is not the time for throwing another random childcare manifesto pledge in to the mix. If you truly want families to believe you have their best interests at heart and you truly want to make a difference to this country and its wellbeing, these actions are needed.”