Sunday, February 28, 2010

Waving good-bye to the front page

It was all a bit surreal this morning. We awoke to tsunami warnings from the Joint Australian Tsunami Warning Centre and a feverish media racing to bring us the details.

While Chile suffered a massive earthquake during the night, an extensive list of approximately 50 countries were issued with tsunami warnings. Warnings for the Australian east coast ranged from 3 metre waves to king tides to the ocean resembling a washing machine, with no significant land inundation expected.

Tragically, the earthquake has taken hundreds of lives in Chile and tsunamis have already taken lives on small islands in the Pacific. Certainly no one can blame us for being a little paranoid, but perhaps some calm warnings to stay out of the water and picnic elsewhere than the beach would have been sufficient. Instead, we got panicked live coverage from a calm Bondi Beach where scores of curious Sydney-siders gathered to see… 10 cm swells.

But hey, who cares that it all fizzled out to nothing. Thanks to our over-excited media, last night’s Sydney mardi gras failed to make headlines this morning.

© Eva Whiteley 2010

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Funding Childcare

In early February Tony Abbott promised voters that if he wins the election, he’ll trump Labor’s 18-week tax-payer-funded paid parental leave with a plan that offers 24 weeks of leave for primary caregivers.

Spokeswoman for the National Foundation for Australian Women, Marie Coleman praised the move, believing Australia lags behind the international community’s standard for paid leave and that six months is the minimum required after the birth of a new baby.

"Indeed the scientific data on child development and the need for parental bonding would suggest that 12 months would be ideal," Coleman said.

Prominent child psychologists agree. According to leading child psychologist and parenting author, Steve Biddulph, children under the age of 3 should remain in the care of a close relative, as formal or institutionalized daycare situations can lead to separation anxiety, emotional vulnerability and stress.

While receivers of the Labor Government’s paid parental leave scheme will not be eligible for the Baby Bonus, they will receive nearly 50% more funding over the 18 week period than mothers who stay home with their children and claim the Baby Bonus. While “working families” who claim the paid leave will receive $543.78 (taxable Federal Minimum Wage) per week for 18 weeks, the $5000 Baby Bonus breaks down to $277.78 per week.

Additionally, families who outsource their children’s care will receive childcare funding approximately twice that of the Family Tax Benefit B received by families who use informal and family-based care.

The Kids First Parent Association of Australia estimates that over 3.5 billion taxpayer dollars will be spent on non-parental care (includes child care benefit, child care rebate, Jobs Education and Training Child Care Fee Assistance and Child Care Services Support) for 600,000 families during the 2011-2012 financial year. Alternatively, it will cost taxpayers less than 4.5 million dollars to fund Family Tax Benefit B to 1.4 million families with one stay-at-home-parent.

© Eva Whiteley 2010

Steve Biddulph, Raising Babies: Should Under 3s Go To Nursery

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Fence the house, supervise the children

Three toddler drownings in the past week in Queensland has prompted fresh urgings by drowning awareness group, Hannah’s Foundation, for governments to get tough on water safety campaigns.

Hannah’s Foundation founder, Andrew Plint, who lost his daughter to drowning in 2007, said that unlike funding for infrastructure and renewable energies, there is little funding for drowning prevention and awareness services because "there is no income derived from them.”

In most towns across Australia, swimming pools and aquatic centres provide weekly swimming and survival lessons for children. Unfortunately, at around $14 a pop, these lessons are seen as a luxury and privilege of the better off. As a mother in Australia, it is difficult to view water safety and survival as a luxury and this is definitely something that governments could look at subsidizing. If the City of Casey, in Victoria can invest in the environment by reimbursing parents for the purchase of cloth nappies over disposables, surely it can look at investing in a skill that will benefit children for life.

Of course, subsidizing swimming lessons and water survival courses does not create a safe play environment for children. Even adults who are strong swimmers can drown.

In 1992, the Pool Fencing Advisory Committee in NSW helped to ensure that fencing for backyard pools would become mandatory but there are no such laws for dams. It is true it would be almost impossible to fence 10, 20, 30 dams on a farm property, but it is not impossible to fence the house yard to create a safe environment for children to play. Nor is it unrealistic to expect that local governments fence the exposed lakes and dams they build among neighbourhoods, like the large lake at Wattle Grove in Western Sydney, a highly built-up area with a large proportion of young families.

But even adequate fencing has failed to prevent the deaths of some children whose best form of defense against a drowning end is close supervision by those charged with their care. According to some reports, over 70% of backyard drownings occur in fenced pools. And 60% of 4 year olds can climb a 1.2 metre high fence.

The most recent drowning accident in Queensland occurred when a 2 year old girl was playing outside while her father remained inside. He found her face down in the property’s dam 15 minutes after she went missing. Just days before, a 2 year old boy drowned in a cattle dip on his family’s property at Bundaberg. Dams are dangerous, even for adults and strong swimmers. Growing up, we were warned vociferously against approaching farm dams and were absolutely forbidden to enter them. Certainly a 2 year old might have difficulty with this kind of direction, but a 2 year old should not be out of sight of his guardian, most particularly in a yard that is within walking distance of a dam and not properly fenced.

Queensland’s Premier, Anna Bligh stated this week, "…it may well be time for us to have some discussions with rural producer groups and local governments about what, if anything, we can be doing to make sure that those dams are a little safer.” You think…

She continued, "The reality is that on-farm dams are often a very important part of the rural production that the farm is focused on, so you have to be very sensible and have something that's workable."

Jamie Cupples, executive director of Farmsafe Queensland had a workable and common-sense solution for parents this week, "Fence off your house or part of your yard. Keep your child contained in a secure play area coupled with supervision."

© Eva Whiteley 2010