One of the more annoying things about becoming a parent is the various state supplied prod-noses of various degrees of incompetence or stupidity, that you have to contend with. Whether it’s midwives who talk to you like you are dirt but expect to be treated like some form of deity or health visitors who are patronising and ignorant, the sheer number of interfering busy-bodies, many of whom my new family could quite well have got by without, is astounding.
Some of them have been excellent, and are worth their salary, especially the ‘health service employee’ (I’ll identify them no more than that) who broke out of his politically correct strait-jacket and told us not to take baby into one particular ‘enriched’ area that I have to visit, until initial vaccinations have been completed. This is because one of things that our Pakistani guests have brought us is a raised risk of Polio on account of the fact that Islamic extremists in that country have, by murdering Polio vaccination workers, turned the place into a major reservoir for Polio.
Not every employee of the state who deals with my child has been excellent and some have spent far too much of the contact time not answering any questions I may have had, but instead have wasted time selling Children’s Centres to us. I’m loathe to use these places as I’ve heard and read some horror stories about them, ranging from those that are dominated by ‘posh mums’ who freeze out those not in their ‘set’, to others that appear be appallingly intrusive into the lives of those who use these centres, and which seem to be more interested in keeping parents under surveillance rather than helping them.
However, be that as it may, as it is time for The Little One to start to get out and about and be socialised and meet other babies as even tiny ones benefit from the stimulation of different smells, sounds and places even if they are too young for what many would recognise as play. As I am acting as ‘Mr Mum’ it fell to me to take him to his first Parent and Baby group. My part of England is quite well served for community led parent and baby facilities and it also has fair few of these children’s centres. I looked at what was on at the state run Children’s Centre and what was on at the independent/community groups and they could not be more different.
My local parent led baby facility had most of what I was looking for, no obligation to sign up to a long commitment of sessions, nice people, not a flimsy front for evangelism or a commercial parenting course, a lot of little ones my child’s age and plenty of age appropriate and not overtly politically correct, toys, everything apart from nappy changing facilities in the gents.
My local children’s centre had running at a similar time a ‘stay and play with an emphasis on healthy lifestyles’. WTF! There was no contest in my view. I could go to the community one which had most of what required, or I could listen to some taxpayer funded non-job drone, lecture me about the danger of putting salt on chips or some other such rubbish, whilst my child gazed on government approved toys. A very unattractive prospect did the Children’s Centre seem to me, at least on that occasion.
Reader, as you might well imagine, I gave the children’s centre a very wide berth indeed and chose the community option and it turned out OK.
I do not doubt that is need for there to be a provision of services and sometimes specialist services, for families, but I question whether monolithic Children’s Centres are the way to provide these services. Why cannot these services be paid for by taxpayers but provided by independent community groups, charities or even private companies? Britain is geographically diverse and I do wonder whether this one size fits all policy focused on Children’s Centres is actually making children’s lives better?
I have the sneaking suspicion that Children’s Centres are sometimes providing what they think parents might need, rather than the services that they do need, and they are doing what they do with an added and unwanted layer of bureaucracy and a large dollop of intrusiveness.
In this case, the market and the community has provided me and my little one with a much better cheaper and more appropriate service than the one being offered by the State, and it was a valuable political lesson about what the State should and should not be involved in. Unfortunately, this public sector inefficiency and lack of market and social responsiveness is not confined to Children’s Centres and can be found in the NHS, as well as in local and national government and could fairly be described as a national malaise and it is an ailment is progressively strangling innovation, community growth and attacking personal responsibility.