April 8, 2013

The Mother’s Manifesto

Here are the underlying values of my manifesto as Shadow Secretary1 for Families:

  • To recognise that families come in many formats;
  • To value and support parenting;
  • To value the childless and the older generations, and acknowledge that they have a place in the social family;
  • To recognise that investment in younger generations is investment in the future;
  • To develop evidence-based policy supporting the social family framework.

Sex & Relationships

School curricula and wider social learning will educate children to be able to make informed decisions about sex and relationships, including a broad understanding of different sexualities and gender identities. Family planning will be widely and openly available. By being respectful of children, we will teach them to respect themselves, to question authority, and to say no. We will abide by the UN Convention on the Rights of Children.

The Family

We will work to de-medicalise pregnancy and childbirth, provide state-subsidised insurance for midwives, and take low risk birth out of hospital settings. Midwife-led birth centres will be financed through savings on unnecessary interventions in birth and the complications thereof.

In the postnatal period, where the need is identified, daily visits will be made by a postnatal care assistant or doula; referrals will include isolated families with no local grandparents as well as young families, single mothers, and those recovering from a difficult birth. The cost of this will be covered by savings on treating postnatal depression and longer duration of breastfeeding leading to lower incidence of hospitalisation for mothers and babies. We will work with the Department of Health to provide effective breastfeeding support for every mother, and to ban advertisement of infant formula.

Working Families

This department will facilitate informal childcare, and proposes a top-up to basic social security payments where unemployed or retired family members provide childcare. We will support current arrangements for part time or flexible working, longer maternity and paternity leave, and sabbaticals for parents, recognising that parenthood grows people.

Helping Each Other

Mothers on maternity leave are encouraged to link up with newer parents or with isolated or elderly people, to provide support and company; and the active retired and the unemployed will be encouraged to provide similar support to the isolated or elderly and new families. Other social voluntary work will be rewarded with a top up to basic social security, or with opportunities for social training and development, which in many cases will lead to qualifications and a step back into work or towards a career change.

The Department for Families proposes the development of the Social Family Framework, bringing back the village and creating opportunities for everyone to be nice to each other.

  1. I just think “shadow secretary” is a really cool title []
Karen

19 thoughts on “The Mother’s Manifesto

  1. Under “Helping Each Other”… shouldn’t this also include fathers on paternity leave? If you recognise that families come in many formats, that’s an important change to make. Don’t want people assuming that only the mother could/should take time off. Oh, and what if the family has two fathers?

    Also, your SRE advisor should be Justin of Bish UK, as his teaching materials for over 14s are amazing! Or… should that be on *my* manifesto?

  2. Agree with Lori that Dads count too – but you know that already. I’d also like to see something more here about the importance of the father-child relationship where the relationship between the parents has broken down/changed. Kids need a male role-model around and that should normally be the father, even if the father and child are no longer under the same roof. How do we encourage that and make it work for all parties?

    Also, I think you should write down that the parents’ choices and decisions will (under most normal circumstances) be accommodated – even if that means a hospital birth and formula feeding. We’re not here to dictate to parents or make them feel bad if they take certain decisions.

    My 2p.

  3. I do know that dads and non-birth-mother partners count too, and agree that space should be made for them in the manifesto. The reasons I didn’t give them much attention in this draft are partly that I know less about the issues and will need my advisors to look into this for me, but also because I know that rights to paternity leave have recently been extended to include things like a portion of extended maternity leave to be taken by the father instead. I also want to accommodate within this the needs of non-traditional families, and then specifically look at the needs of families where the parents are no longer in a relationship, though I don’t agree that kids necessarily need a male role-model within the family. I think all the different nuances of family life need appropriate support.

    Lori, yes, you can appoint Justin with my full approval. I have his document on my kindle but haven’t had time to read it yet.

    Graybo, under my government, parents’ choices will always be respected (clearly you need to read my doula blog to get to know my philosophy a bit better), but as you said in your own manifesto, long-term plans will never make popular policies. I am in the fortunate position that I’ll never actually go into politics so I don’t have to water down my ideas in order to win votes. I stand for evidence-based policy making and that means allowing people to make evidence-based decisions. There is evidence that birth does not need to be heavily medicalised, and my department wants to foster a culture where low risk births move out of the hospital environment, and where midwives are recognised for having the skills to deal with a wide range of birth scenarios.

    The same applies to breastfeeding, and I know from the statistics and from my working experience that very few families make a positive decision to formula feed. The very bald statistic is that nationally 81% of mothers manage at least one breastfeed; by six weeks, 50% of those women will have given up, and 90% of them report that they would have liked to do it for longer. That’s a lot of disappointment, a contributory factor in postnatal depression, and an increased rate of hospitalisation for babies and health risks in later life for mothers who do not breastfeed. It’s absolutely true that it is difficult to strike the right tone in the work we do to turn this around, but how can you argue with the need to turn it around? It’s not about demonising formula or any other parenting decision, and crying “guilt” clouds the issue and plays into the hands of those with vested interests in mothers not breastfeeding. It’s about long term cultural change.

    References:
    Infant Feeding Survey 2010
    Birthplace Study
    UNICEF: Preventing Disease and Saving Resources

  4. Paternity leave – this is great, but children need their dads/parent-who-is-not-birth-mother around for more than the first six months of life, IMHO. We need to consider how we can facilitate this for older kids – perhaps especially teenagers (who always seem to be forgotten in child/family policies, it seems to me).

    This could be related to employment. We live in a world where it is often necessary for both parents to bring home a salary. Because the availability of part-time work is often skewed towards women (and even then is quite low-paid), it is usually the woman who stays home or does the school run every day whilst the father leaves home at 7am and returns at 7pm. Two of my (male) friends hardly see their children on weekdays for this reason. What measures can we introduce to encourage employers to take male part timers, give better senior roles to women, offer high-quality part-time positions/job shares, provide more flexibility for everyone – and yet not destroy the principle of meritocracy nor place such a burden on employers that they simply employ fewer people or outsource to third countries?

    I think kids benefit from a male role model. I think they need a female role model too. (And yes, this is opinion, not based on much in the way of evidence). Perhaps that role model can be an amalgam of several people. Your “village” idea sounds good, but I’m not sure how well that works in broken families with failed relationships. There needs to be a link to school, as that’s the one place nearly all kids will go to (once they’ve passed 5 years). Can it be a good thing that only 12% of primary school teachers are male and three out of four primary schools have no male teacher at all? (Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-14748273). At Tom’s school, the only male members of staff are the cleaner (rarely in school during class hours) and the PE teacher (shared between three primary schools in the area) – no male in a teaching role or as TA. This seems typical. How can we get the number of male teachers in primary closer to that for secondary schools (38%) – or, better still, up to 50%?

    I like “developing culture” to encourage behaviours over “taking low-risk births out of hospital”, which implies targets and regulation. I had conversation this weekend with a mum of three and a mum of one-and-a-bit (second child imminent) from two different health authorities who spoke of “pressure” (their word) to breastfeed, rather than encouragement – presumably because there is a written target somewhere in the system. It could be that the impression of “pressure” comes because the staff don’t receive enough training/support/time/resources to “nurture” and “encourage”, but it’s a story one hears a lot. Further, if the financial provision of what you desire (post-natal support – great idea) is being paid for by reducing demand for things are not right (post-natal intervention that comes from poor breastfeeding uptake), then how will you avoid pressure either on the customers (families) or the providers (nurses, midwives) to ensure that your ambition is met?

    Finally, do families always take evidence-based decisions? Anecdotal evidence would suggest that families can be quite irrational – particularly my relatives. But that just might be my family. Certainly, if you eradicated the sensationalist media, it would help. As Benificient Dictator, I’ll start by smiting the Daily Mail. Hope that helps.

  5. Further thought – this just goes to show how you need “joined up thinking”. Our little thought experiments here have neatly shown how families policy is related to education, business, employment, health – and, quite probably, taxation. And from that comes the realisation that a policy change in one department is almost certain to have unintended consequences somewhere else. It’s all so bloody complicated and not as easy as it looks.

  6. Yes, let’s look at how we make working practices more family friendly, but this is already being done which is why it’s not a big part of my manifesto. Yes many families need two earners, so it’s a hard decision to make, for example, for dad to work a four day week and spend more time with his children; but it’s not impossible. But again we’re talking about long-term culture change where parenting is valued at least as much as having two cars and a holiday every year.

    As far as your point about “pressure to breastfeed” is concerned, I am not sure if you understand that you’re agreeing with me? That’s why you’ll notice that nowhere have I suggested “promoting” breastfeeding; I’m not talking about making people breastfeed, and I don’t have to talk about making people feel like they have to breastfeed, because as you will see from the stats I quoted above, the majority of mothers do want to do it but don’t get to do it for as long as they wanted to. I am talking about protecting an environment where every woman gets to do it for as long as they want to. I am talking about a culture where breastfeeding isn’t idealised, but is normalised. This is far too big a subject to do justice here, so I’m going to ask you to trust me, since you’re kind of teaching me to suck eggs. This isn’t just something I dabble in, it’s my life’s work, and I’m very painfully aware of people feeling pressure to breastfeed and of health professionals not being well-trained or sufficiently debriefed in their own experience, to protect and support breastfeeding, to help mothers to understand their babies’ behaviour and needs and to have confidence in their bodies and in their parenting.

    You have a couple of very recognisable anecdotes about pressure to breastfeed, and I’d wager that the stories behind them are complex. I have some statistics, this time from the 2005 Infant Feeding Survey, showing that 27% of mothers who were themselves formula-fed gave up in the first 2 weeks, and 29% of breastfeeding mothers whose friends mostly formula-fed gave up in the first 2 weeks. That’s cultural pressure not to breastfeed (and a dissertation’s worth of discussion).

    I don’t know what the nuts and bolts of cultural change are, but I strongly suspect it’s not about targets in the system. I’ve recently stopped running a breastfeeding support group at our local children’s centre, because this touchy-feely nonsense is neither targeted nor evaluable and therefore they can’t justify funding it. This touchy-feely nonsense is highly valued by the health visitors who refer mothers to my group, and by the mothers who come to it. If I was brutal enough to contact every service user six weeks later and ask them if they were still breastfeeding, then I might have the data I need to keep it going, but that would certainly not be the tone I’m trying to strike here.

    If you want to know what I think about how parents use evidence, read this.

  7. I have to go away from the computer, but I need to read this in full (and re-read what I wrote earlier too, to see what I’ve said that might not be clear and not have the meaning I intended), but I will come back to this. However, in the ten seconds I’ve got left, yes, it sounds like we are agreeing. Which is a good place to start.

    Note to self: read what you write before hitting send. May avert unintended disagreements.

  8. I don’t think we have a disagreement, but I wonder if I am managing to convey my philosophy adequately, which is why I suggested reading my doula blog, if you have time on your hands. I am passionate about supporting parents, but I don’t think this automatically equates to judgement, guilt, or pressure. I think that’s why you have to take a long term view. And yes, smite away.

  9. That’s a good article, Adrian.
    That’s also an excellent post, Karen.

    Having given more thought to all this, I realise now that the problem that we have, as policymakers for BURP, is that, on many issues, voters and thought leaders will have pre-defined (often ill-defined) positions which are based upon the information they have at hand. That information may have come from very reputable sources (say, the NHS website), fairly reputable sources (say, the BBC), less reputable sources (Daily Mail) or really unrelaible sources (heard it down the pub). Worse still, some people will make decisions based on their own experience or that of their immediate circle, even though they’ve not really understood why they perceive something to have worked well for them.

    As an example of this, someone could write a lengthy piece in, for example, the comments section of this blog, based entirely on their own experience and that of a small circle of friends with whom they had a wine-fuelled conversation at the weekend. This would clearly be flawed and not based upon verifiable data that had been interpreted with care by someone skilled in the art. However, that would not stop others making decisions and basing opinions upon that well-intentioned but poorly founded piece of writing. Equally, because of the personal connection to the data sources, the author of that piece would emotionally invest in their point of view and therefore it would be quite difficult to get them to consider the facts once more, using a better set of data and an improved interpretation. [*]

    The trouble we (and wider democracy) have is that most voters will form their opinions on any given subject (breast-feeding, role models, fiscal policy, the price of fish paste) upon an incomplete set of data sources or an incomplete or incorrect interpretation of the data.

    All of which brings me back to my original idea that democracy is flawed because voters don’t make the best decisions that they could and, worse still, the voting options available to them don’t include a best option, so there’s no hope even for the rational.

    [*] that’s about as close as you’re going to get to a retraction from the Benevolent Dictator. Any more would imply that I’m fallible, and we don’t want anyone to think that.

  10. Goodness me, Graybo, that’s a very humble retraction and I really want to make sure you know that I don’t think your comments were unfounded and certainly didn’t find them disagreeable. You said what people say to me two or three times a week in antenatal classes, and I reflect and learn all the time, and I fight to undo the damage done by militant promotion of various agendas. My area of specialist knowledge happens to be a controversial and emotive one, I know that. Healthy and open discussion, as this has been, is a good way forward.

  11. Excellent. We should reward ourselves with a cocktail. Can I get you a Sucked Egg?

  12. Oh I’m so sorry for the sucked egg remark, that was just rude. Humble Pie on the Beach?

  13. Also, I wonder what is said by the fact that I had to check the spelling of “fallible” and nearly got it wrong?

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