Over the Christmas holiday, I watched the whole series of Call the Midwife with the family. I love midwives and what they do, working at the extremity of human life; it is one of the great privileges of my life to work with them. When the narrator in Call the Midwife said she did it for love, I believed her – that is my experience of knowing midwives.
Call the Midwife is a fascinating glimpse of the birth of modern NHS maternity services. The NHS brought about the most dramatic decrease in infant and maternal mortality in human history. It was the transition of birth predominantly from the home environment to the hospital environment that triggered one of the big social changes of our time – the attendance of fathers at the births of their babies. As mothers were moved from the reassurance of their own environment, they took what they could with them, their families. Grantly Dick-Read, referred to in Call the Midwife, was the first person to discuss the implications of this – if fathers are at the birth, do they need to be prepared for that? Woefully unprepared fathers still routinely attend the birth of their babies, 50 years later, as we still struggle with the issue of men at the birth.
Midwives are the bridge between the medical priorities of the NHS, driven more and more by heavy litigation costs, and the normality and family nature of birth. In my experience, the more midwives are in control of the birth environment the more family friendly the service is. A new phenomenon is entering NHS maternity services – competition. And it is unsurprising that a key competitive edge sought by the best maternity services is the degree to which they are family friendly.
I am working to bring modern communications technology into maternity services. There are many technical arguments in favour of this – better audit trails, more consistency in providing advice, better communication of key health issues, better user data, and so on – all essential things to justify the investment. But ultimately, the purpose of technology in maternity services is to extend the role of midwives in showing kindness, providing reassurance and inviting confidence – in short, a way to express love.
Asda declared in its controversial Christmas ad (191 complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority about sexist stereotyping, according to the BBC) that behind every Christmas there is a mum and behind every mum is Asda.
It was encouraging to see a chorus of disapproval in response to a depiction of fathers doing absolutely nothing in the home and a mother performing the impossible. There are lots more dislikes than likes on the YouTube video (where Asda was not paying for people to put positive comments on by offering a prize), and hundreds of disapproving posts on the Asda Facebook site. The only voice in favour of the campaign came from Netmums, saying that this is the reality in the majority of families – I wonder where they get the evidence!
There is a dark side to this, which is why I am writing this post. The myth that mothers are routinely unsupported in the home is propagated by organisations who need mothers to need them – the subliminal message is “give up on him and come to us”. They do it because it works. This message is unhelpful in every respect, undermining family life – a disease in our society. There is already a huge aspiration in families to share responsibilities and we need to fan that in every way we can, for the sake of mothers, fathers, children, our communities and our economy.
We failed. We thought there was an opportunity under this Government to get a leave system that would actually work in enabling mothers and fathers to share care more, as has been achieved in other countries. We got it wrong.
A business lobby, keen to ensure men do not bow to domestic responsibilities as women have to, and the maternal lobby, keen for mothers to remain in charge in the home, combined forces in an unholy alliance, and this Government, like its predecessors, was no match for the pincer movement from both sides.
UK experts on leave entitlements published a joint letter in The Guardian to point out the problems – but there was almost no coverage of this. The media took the Government’s spin without critical enquiry.
Let me make clear that I think this Government – particularly Nick Clegg – wants real change and the mauling he got from Jane Garvey on Woman’s Hour on Tuesday did the presenter no favours, as she discovered from the Twitter response from listeners. But the reality is that, like his predecessors, on this issue he has bridged the gap between popular opinion and the pressures from the behind-the-scenes lobbies by presenting an appearance that the arrangements will enable more sharing of responsibility for caring, whilst providing the lobbies with the comfort that the arrangements will change little.
I hold my hand up to admit defeat; we really tried and we thought we were going to make it. But – and it is a big but – I think we failed because we were not organised well enough. Watch out for the next time this debate comes round – when, in 2015, a different Government is presented with the task of enacting the ideas of its predecessor. And popular opinion is on the side of real change. The game is by no means over!
As I set about setting up more new projects than I have ever done before, and with less money than ever before, I am studying the art of start-up, and have been smitten by the work of Eric Ries, in The Lean Startup, recommended to me by social enterprise champion, Paul Cheng, . . . → Read More: The technique of start-up
True, if you taught 11 players individually how to play football and then put them into a match, it would be better than not training them at all. But they wouldn’t win. Human parenting is a team activity – that is part of human nature, why, indeed, humans are so incredibly successful. . . . → Read More: Teaching parenting skills to a parent alone is like teaching members of a football team separately and expecting them to win the match
Many local authorities run family information services. They vary widely in what issues they cover. Some just focus on local childcare providers, and others cover all kinds of activities for children, including things like cinemas and swimming pools. They also vary in how they present the information: walk-in information points, a website . . . → Read More: Ten ideas for a second generation family information service
I was at a meeting recently among organisations bidding for running early years services for a local authority. The question on the table, issued by the commissioning authority, was “what if the budget were cut by 5%/10%/15%?”
The proposed answer was a cut in user numbers by something like 5%/15%/20%. I was . . . → Read More: Innovating for productivity in children’s services