Recent high-profile child safety cases, such as the disappearance last year of Madeline McCann are the background to this episode of BBC One’s Whistleblower documentaries. The programme features an insider ‘whistleblower’ from OFSTED as well as an undercover journalist taking three different jobs in childcare; one at a local ‘family-run’ nursery, the second at an internationally renowned holiday resort chain and the third at a chain nursery which recently saw a child die in it’s care.
The impression you are left with from all these undercover visits is that childcare is seen by these businesses as just another way of making a ‘quick buck’. High prices are charged to parents for the care, but this certainly doesn’t go towards high quality staffing and facilities. Instead, the money seems to go in the owners back pockets, whilst they employ staff on the cheapest rates, with no training and as a result morale at all the places is really low, with a high staff turnover due to the high stress levels this provokes. At the resort we are shown some of the various tricks the company goes into to cuts costs, where they make staff work illegally on tourist visas rather than paying out for work permits for them.
Safety is also poor. As a result of chronic understaffing, stressed and over-worked staff struggle to keep an eye on all the children. Added to this are unsafe toys and objects, as well as a lack of safety equipment for some activities. We are also shown how one nursery owner denies that children have burnt themselves on radiators whilst simultaneously installing radiator guards ahead of an upcoming inspection (and this work, with power tools and all lying everywhere, is being carried out whilst children are still playing in the room!!)
Ofsted is shown to do next to nothing to protect the children, in the words of the programme’s whistleblower, its inspections ‘barely scratch the surface’. And keeping with the recent sleaze scandals we are told that the nursery where the child died may have been saved from closure to safeguard the career of Michael Falon, a Tory MP, who was the company’s managing director at the time.
What the programme didn’t go into was the need for a socialist solution to these problems. Instead of privatised nurseries with poor safety and low paid staff, there needs to be a publicly owned, fully funded childcare system under the democratic control of parents and workers to provide the care children and parents alike deserve.
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