BabyDaddy and I recently made the difficult decision to take Ted out of nursery. If I found it difficult to send him in the first place it was nothing to the guilt of taking him out, knowing he enjoyed it.
I’d felt uncomfortable since he moved up to the toddler room. While they had made comments about his language development in the baby room they never really pestered us (although asking whether we’d hindered his speech development by using baby signing did annoy me a great deal) and we always felt confident that they were paying him attention and filling us in on what he’d been doing.
I know toddler room is supposed to be a more independent environment and that they’re going to be left to their own devices more but I never actually knew what he had been doing. I didn’t even know who his named key worker was as no one introduced themselves to me.
Unlike when I went to look around baby room before Ted started I hadn’t liked toddler room from the first time I saw it. In both cases it was a gut feeling and nothing I can explain, but the feeling grew as time went by.
Then a couple of weeks ago I was handed his two year review, a document I didn’t even know they were compiling. I was told to give it a read and let his key worker know if I wanted to arrange a time to discuss anything. Having subsequently read up on the policy governing the two year review I now know that it’s supposed to be carried out in conjunction with parents, and the nursery’s own policy is that parents are given a draft review to comment on before a final version is agreed by both the nursery and the parents.
Ted’s review mostly put him at the correct level for his age and I probably wouldn’t have read it in very much detail had I not been so surprised by his self-confidence being deemed to be at a level expected between birth and 11 months. The review had been carried out when he was 26 months. I wondered if it was a mistake as nothing in the comments suggested any issues whatsoever, but upon reading the whole thing in more detail I found the review to be completely full of contradictions and inaccuracies, not to mention spelling mistakes.
Having judged Ted’s language to be at a level expected between 11 and 18 months (to some degree probably a fair judgement) and stating that he was beginning to use basic words (I disagree with the “beginning to” aspect) they then suggested that his next steps should be “to talk about feelings and emotions” and discuss why it’s important not to hurt other people. How is that a next step from, to quote, “beginning to say simple words such as bye-bye and no”?
Most of the document read like it had been copied and pasted and certainly didn’t seem to be about Ted. I decided to take his key worker up on her offer of a chat about the review and asked BabyDaddy to arrange it when he went to pick Ted up. We were asked to go in a bit early when we picked Ted up the next day, but then the manager rang me and asked if we could stay when we dropped him off instead.
It turned out that the reason she had rearranged the meeting was that the area manager was going to be there. What I thought was going to be an informal chat about a progress review I disagreed with turned in to me being ambushed by the toddler room supervisor, nursery manager and area manager. Ted went off to toddler room as usual and Ben was bundled off to the baby room despite the fact that none of the nursery workers know anything about him.
The area manager asked what my concerns were but whatever I said she just tried to move back to Ted’s language development. It became apparent quite quickly that the meeting I thought I was having was not the one I was getting. I felt as though I was being ambushed and even when I explained that we were already seeing our health visitor about his speech development (not, as they kept suggesting, his language development) I was being pushed to take him for speech and language therapy. I have no problem with taking him if he needs it but at the moment it’s been decided by his health worker and her supervisor that it’s not appropriate. He understands us, he communicates with us and he is developing his speech (more so since leaving nursery, interestingly) so we’re reviewing him periodically and keeping open minds.
The area manager did listen to my concerns long enough to admit that the assessments are conducted using a piece of software that completes the “next steps” sections automatically based on the level the child has been awarded. I told her that meant the review had absolutely no worth as I couldn’t use it to help me find ways to support his development, and especially as there was no indication of why he’d been given each level within the “personal” (yeah, right) comments. She seemed surprised that I would think that and assured me that it would be the only review carried out that way. Having read up on the assessment I knew that it was a mandatory process introduced by the government as an early diagnostic tool so when I told her that I was unhappy with him being labelled inaccurately by a poorly-completed document she drew the meeting to a close with a request that I completed a form to assess his language skills.
It wasn’t until later that I became angry about the whole thing. If they had concerns about Ted’s language they should have asked me for a meeting about it, not hijacked what I thought was a chat about the way a report had been written. I should have been prepared for them to deliver a sermon on how slow his development was, and for that sermon to be delivered by three senior members of staff sitting on higher chairs than mine in a tiny office while my five week old baby was being passed around by strangers.
The more I read about the two year review and the government’s publications on Ages and Stages the more I knew they’d cocked up and the more I suspected that the meeting was in part designed to stop me from complaining about it.
The final straw for me, however, was when I received an email later that day regarding the Christmas closure period. That email contained the names and contact details of every child in the nursery. I was unbelievably angry.
BabyDaddy and I talked a lot about how we felt and, as we’d been uncomfortable with toddler room for a while anyway, we decided to take Ted out. With me being on maternity leave and him working part-time it not only saves us money but gives us the opportunity to pay Ted the attention I don’t believe he was getting there. The following day BabyDaddy went in and told them of our decision and the reasons behind it, collected Ted’s things and requested that no further data be shared with any third parties and, specifically, that his two year review was not passed to his health visitor.
Later that day I received a phone call from the manager of the company asking me to reconsider. To begin with she tried to make excuses but after I’d expressed everything I’d experienced, and with reference to Ages & Stages, she began to acknowledge that I’d been treated inappropriately and that several of the nursery’s policies had been breached. She assured me that action would be taken and that changes would be made to ensure that the standard of care returned to that expected of an ‘Outstanding’ nursery. While I could see her words as damage-limitation I was inclined to believe her. She had stopped using management-speak and telling me she “appreciated my feedback” which she would “take forward” and acknowledged that this wasn’t about her business, but about my son.
Although I agreed that I would take some time to think it through and discuss it with BabyDaddy I think my confidence in them was so low that I couldn’t have changed my mind. I wanted to take enough time to stop being angry and think clearly but I knew that behind the guilt and sadness I also felt relief.
It took me until now to realise that I didn’t feel guilty anymore and that the sadness I was feeling was a result not of losing confidence in the nursery but of losing the image I had of the care Ted should be getting. I loved that place when he started and I still think about taking him in and watching him run to his classroom. I miss picking him up and watching him play before he notices that I’m there. I haven’t taken him out because I don’t want him to be there.
I haven’t thought about what I’ll do when I go back to work. It’s possible that I’ll go back to the nursery and see whether the proposed changes have been made. I don’t know how I feel about finding another setting. I’ve considered a childminder and even a nanny. I’ve thought about giving up work. I just don’t know how I’ll feel when the time comes to leave two boys in someone else’s care and how I can regain my confidence even in the concept of someone else nurturing them.
I’m still angry at the way I was treated by the nursery staff and I still have a horrible niggling feeling about something I saw on his last day, but most of all I’m angry that they took away Ted’s chance of an opportunity that should have been really good for him.