Monday, February 27, 2012

And Another Thing . . .

Further to my previous post, I saw a funny thing happening at Sure Start's Tumble Tots session on Friday.  I saw the Sure Start children's worker trying to explain to a Polish mother that she wasn't allowed to bring her child's juice drink with her to the session.

"Only water and milk are allowed at Sure Start sessions."

Excellent policy.  Because you will surely be able to reverse the effects of two years of juice drinking by denying a toddler their juice for 75 minutes each week.  And we all know that toddlers are notoriously easy to persuade to try new things and give up their favourite things.  Not.

NB only drinks juice and hot chocolate, not water or milk.  And believe me, I've tried!  So he goes thirsty at Tumble Tots.

My point is that by the time a child is ready to go to Tumble Tots, it's too late to start trying to educate mothers about juice.  Habits are already formed. If we are to persuade mothers not to give their child any other drink than milk and water, then it must be done before the child is weaned.

And anyway, this particular Sure Start Centre's policy on this doesn't seem to be one of education and persuasion.  It's apparently one of prohibition and restriction.  The Centre serves drinks to the children as part of the session, and I fully support their decision to only serve water.  I would not expect Sure Start to appear to be promoting the drinking of less healthy drinks.  But to ban mothers from bringing juice for their non-water-drinking toddlers?  It just feels like a step too far for me.

As it happens, though, OB is completely fine with it.  As I've only ever given him water and milk to drink, he is able to look down his tiny nose at those juice-drinking toddlers and feel very smug about his prospects for excellent future dental health.

The Propaganda Overwhelms Me!

Far be it from me to wade into the whole 'Breast is Best' debate, but last week one of those little things happened that got me feeling all annoyed, and it has sort of snowballed in my head ever since until there's now an avalanche of indignation pouring around my ears.

OB's Health Visitor came round for a visit and while she was here NB reached into her bag and pulled out a leaflet.  She let him have it to play with, saying, "He might as well play with that - we're not allowed to give them out anyway."

After she'd gone, I had a good read of the censored leaflet - always the rebel!  It turned out to contain two excellent and informative articles about toddler nutrition which taught me a lot I didn't know and had me searching on the internet and amending my weekly shopping list immediately!

And the reason the Health Visitor is not allowed to give it out?  It's produced by Cow & Gate (a brand of infant formula milk) and therefore she can't give it out to parents in case it looks like she's promoting bottle feeding.


The leaflet wasn't about bottle feeding and in fact the only time it mentioned milk feeding at all was in a section entitled 'Protect Your Back' which showed good postures for sitting and feeding your baby (feeding method not specified) and for lifting and carrying your baby.

And yet because there was the Cow & Gate logo on the front of the leaflet, parents were to be denied access to the valuable and thought-provoking articles on toddler nutrition?

I've had many friends that have breastfed their children and their experiences have run the full gamut from abject misery to serene happiness but, as I personally haven't tried it, I suppose I'm in no position to comment on it.  Suffice it to say that I'm not going to contradict the 'Breast is Best' message that every mother must surely have heard ad infinitum by now, unless living on another planet.

My point is this:  why is it not enough to educate women about breastfeeding and encourage them to try it?  Why is it necessary to run a propaganda campaign that would make the efforts of some dictators look weak and foolish?  Why is it necessary to restrict all information about formula feeding?  Why is it necessary to prohibit sales and promotions on infant formula milk so that it costs the same (expensive) price in every shop you try?

I can just see it now.  The breastfeeding mother wanders down the baby aisle in the local supermarket and sees that formula milk is reduced in price this week by £1.  'Oh,' she thinks, 'formula milk is £1 off.  I'll give up breastfeeding, which is free and best for my baby, and spend a fortune on bottles, a steriliser and formula milk immediately!'


I can't pretend to know all the reasons why women choose not to breastfeed, but I'm almost certain that none of them are a belief that formula feeding is in some way good value for money.  It is not.  Formula is expensive.  And as one of the many women who have absolutely no choice whatsoever about what I feed the babies in my care, I really resent the prohibition on any kind of promotional offers or sales.

I also resent the message, often voiced openly (for instance on the BBC TV Programme "Is Breast Best?"), that women who bottlefeed can't possibly bond with their children in the same way that breastfeeding mothers do.  Where exactly is the research evidence to support this assertion?  What is the excuse for piling even more guilt onto mothers who have tried breastfeeding and given up in despair?  They already feel like failures.  There's no need to make them feel like bad mothers as well.

It may well be the case, as a breastfeeding counsellor once said to me, that proper support and education can overcome the vast majority of breastfeeding problems that women encounter.  If that is true, then good.  And more power to the elbows of those who are taking on this job. 

But I also think that here the breastfeeding propaganda does women another disservice.  All the pictures of breastfeeding I ever see are of beautiful, calm women with their babies snuggled contentedly at the breast feeding away.  I've seen women breastfeeding in real life and it doesn't always look like that.  Perhaps if the leaflets were more forthcoming about the realities of it, then women wouldn't have such a shock when it proves difficult and give it up as a bad job after a few weeks or even days. 

Again, this is not from personal experience, but I understand that breastfeeding can be painful, difficult and exhausting.  For some women it just doesn't seem to be the beautiful, natural thing shown on the leaflets.  I recently discovered that breastfed children will need vitamin drops from 6 months as breastmilk does not contain enough iron and other things for babies as they grow.  So why are women being encouraged to breastfeed for longer and longer?  I'm sure there's a good reason, but I don't really know what it is!

So I guess what I want is for everyone to just lay off shouting 'Breast is Best' at women all the time and help us to understand the real issues!  I'm pretty sure that women agonizing over the best way to feed their babies do not make their final decision based on a logo on the front of a leaflet, or when seeing a sales promotion on formula.  Less banning and restricting, and more educating and encouraging, please!

And finally, take pity, for goodness sake, on those many thousands of women, like me, who have no option but to bottle feed their fostered and adopted children and yet still feel like pariahs queueing up at the supermarket with that carton of Cow & Gate in their baskets.  I'm not a bad mother who doesn't care about the possibilities of future obesity, I'm these children's safe shelter.  Being given formula milk is the least of their problems.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Simple Service

Having finally managed to persuade the boys that they would both like to nap at the same time in the afternoon I have more time to do all kinds of things, including blogging, hence the relative plethora of posts this month.

And I'm glad about that because it gives me chance to mention something that I should have blogged about weeks ago.  Not long after OB came back to live here I wrote a post called "10 Things I Haven't Done Much of Recently".  I had fun writing that post, and appreciated the comments I got both here and on Facebook, but I forgot one very important thing.

You see, up to that point, one of the things I hadn't had to do much of - in fact hadn't done any of - was cook a meal.  As OB landed and my world went crazy, all sorts of people suddenly starting turning up at my door with pots of food, frozen goodies and even picnic lunches.  It was almost a daily event.  And some of these offerings were so bounteous that they lasted us for several days.

I can't find the words to express how incredibly grateful I am for these many kind acts by many different people.  Maybe it doesn't seem much, to make a bit extra and put it in an old ice cream tub for somebody, but to me at that time it meant that not only did I not have to face the daily task of looking in my store cupboard and wondering what tasteless, burnt offering I was going to eat that night (I'm a cook of variable success!) but it also meant that I hardly had to go shopping for food at all, at least until I had got the hang of getting the boys in the car, finding the twin-seated trolley buried among all the annoyingly single-seated ones, and choosing the best value yoghurt without inadvertently allowing the boys to pull all the cheese off the dairy shelf!

One of the things that amazed me about this was that, as far as I know, it was totally unco-ordinated.  We do have a very good (and very much appreciated) rota system for taking meals round to people's homes when a new baby is born, but this wasn't that.  It was just individuals seeing a need and responding out of the loving care in their own hearts.

Many churches have plans and schemes to encourage 'pastoral care'.  Perhaps they have leaders who have been given special responsibility for this area.  All well and good, especially if it means that everybody is included and nobody experiences the rejection of slipping through the net.

But how much more wonderful when, without being told to or put on a list or rota, people just respond to that prompting of the Holy Spirit to show love to their neighbour!

This week at housegroup we were talking about serving one another and there was some conversation about how busy people with families could balance serving others with spending the right amount of time at home caring for their own children, husbands or wives and extended family members.

Well, can I suggest as a start that next time you're making a big batch of cottage pie, curry or hotpot for your own tea, consider putting some extra in and popping over to someone else's house with a special delivery?  We all know people who are elderly, disabled, unwell, lonely, tired, busy and in need.  Your Stork tub full of chicken stew might just be the thing they need more than anything else in the world to make them feel loved and wanted.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

My Day

Get up, breakfast, coffee.

"Get down off the radiator"

"Get down off the television"



"We don't stand on our toys"

"We don't throw our toys!"

"We don't poke our toys into each other's mouths!"

Snack time.

"Stop lying on him"

"Don't squash him - you're hurting him"

"When he's crying it means he doesn't like it!"


Visit to the shops to buy new coats.

"Get down off the radiator"

"Get down off the television"


Take time out to tend to injury.

"He's playing with that - choose a different toy"

"We don't snatch toys"

"If you touch his toy again I'm putting you in your chair!!"


Nappy change.

"Right, come on boys, sleep time now."

Half-hour walk in the pram.

"Why aren't you asleep?!!"

Half-hour drive in car.

Peace for 90 minutes :)

"Stop lying on him!"

"We DO NOT lie on each other!"

"Get down from the radiator"

"Get down from the television"

"If I have to come and get you down myself, there'll be trouble!"

"We don't stand on our toys!"

"We don't use our toys as weapons!"

"What have you got in your mouth?"

"Where did you find THAT?!"

Tea time.

"Don't play with the shelf"

"Stop pulling the shelf off the bookcase"

"Leave the shelf - you'll hurt yourself!"

Time out to tend to injuries and search for the missing shelf-support thingies.

Bath time - aka drown time!




Friday, February 24, 2012

Seat-of-the-Pants Operating System

A BBC news article this morning reported on a study that found that far too often, children in care were given too little notice of changes in their foster placements. In fact, in over 50% of cases,  children were given less than a week's notice of the move.

It is not difficult to imagine how unsettling this must be for children who will often experience several foster care placements.  I heard of a child recently who was being moved under difficult circumstances.  She didn't know where she would be going until the day of the move - there had not even been a chance to meet the new foster family before the placement began.

Sadly, it doesn't surprise me at all.  'Little or no notice' seems to be the norm in many areas of Children's Social Care.  Most of my experiences with the social workers and others have been good, and in general, I believe that they do genuinely care and have the best interests of the children at heart.  But at the same time, it seems that while they are busy organising everything and making arrangements, they sometimes seem to forget to inform the people who will be affected by those arrangements.  And things do sometimes seem to be unnecessarily last minute.

NB is currently having his contact times changed week by week.  I rarely find out what next week's contacts will be until the very end of the previous week.  This is inconvenient for me, but it's worse for the parents.  I live a structured life with easy access to email and mobile phones, etc.  Not all parents do.  More than once, NB has missed a contact because the parent couldn't be contacted in time and therefore didn't know to turn up.  It would be an even more serious problem for NB if he was older and able to understand what was going on.

I don't want to sound over-critical of the social workers though.  If I was doing that job, the administrative and organisational bits would be my downfall too.  I'm pretty sure that people don't become social workers because they love filing and keeping an organised diary, in the same way that I didn't become a teacher because I love filling in forms and writing reports.

Bearing this in mind, I am completely willing to forgive the occasional slip-up - such as when my SSW forgot to tell me the date and time of my annual review until 1 hour before it started - but I'm beginning to believe that there's an something of an institutional 'last minute seat of the pants' attitude that pervades every aspect of the service.  Contacts are arranged last minute, contact supervisers are a couple of minutes late every time, appointments are made and cancelled, paperwork needs to be chased up, and so on and so on.

I know from experience that once you've got into this way of working, it's very hard to get ahead of yourself again because you're always running to catch up.  Not only is this inefficient, it's also stressful - no wonder people who work for the service seem to be off sick so much and the turnover of staff is so high.

Our LA is having an Ofsted inspection soon and I've been asked to undergo an interview with the inspectors as part of that process.  I'm already trying to work out how I can manage to be honest with the inspector while at the same time not denigrating the work of some talented and lovely people who are in a job that I wouldn't want to do for all the money in the world.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Boys' Toys

Have bought the boys two new 'toys' this week and I'm well pleased with both of them.

The first is this Tommee Tippee cup:

Available at Amazon, although I got mine from Tesco!

It has a rubbery bottom so it doesn't slide about, and rubbery handles so little OB can tip it up enough to drink even when it's full and heavy.  The spout is valved and doesn't leak even when you tip it up and shake it about - perfect for two boys who love nothing better than to shake out their drinks all over their high-chair trays.  I've carried it about in the bottom of a bag with the lid on several times and no sign of a leak.

I've tried quite a few cups up to now and this is the first I've had that OB can actually use and is reliably leak-free :)

The second is this snack holder:

Available on Amazon for a good price

There are lots of these available from different manufacturers and I'm sure each one is as good as the other.  I'd never seen such a thing before and I bought them on the off-chance that they would actually work.  They do!  No cheerios on the carpet at all!  And best of all, the boys think they're a toy and are happily kept amused for ages with a tiny handful of cheerios as they practise getting them out and shake the pot while running round the room.  Anything that keeps the boys happy for a few minutes and doesn't make an enormous mess is a winner with me!