Friday, January 13, 2006

It's not nice being not nice

I spend most Friday mornings helping to run a parent-and-toddler (PNT) group checking in toddlers and their parents/carers at the reception desk.

There are lots of health and safety issues in the current climate and we are careful that people are accounted for. In case of fire, for example, I am supposed to grab the attendance cards and run.

In the area where this group is run (by volunteers at a local church), there is a great demand for PNT places. Childminders are now required by OFSTED or OF-whatever government department to take the children they care for to a PNT group. But it's volunteers like us who run such groups. The government is not giving money to set up PNT groups and yet they require childminders to attend such groups.

Perhaps a reader could enlighten me on how the logic works.

In a normal PNT group, children grow up, go to school, move on, and another toddler could take its place. As a result of this blinkered policy, childminders clog up the vacancies we have and mothers sometimes have to wait for a year before a place is freed up. Even first-time stay-at-home-mothers who usually need the space and benefits that a PNT group provide much more than a bunch of kids looked after by professional and experienced childminders.

The two groups that we run are over-subscribed. There are long waiting lists for toddlers to join. Each time we think we have managed to clear the waiting lists, they grow rapidly again.

This morning I had to be really nasty to one mother. Let's call her Q. Though she looked familiar, I couldn't find her card but she insisted that she had a card and quoted me a name. I asked her to fill in another card.

Subsequently when I have registered most of the other regulars, I checked all the data carefully and still could not find Q's original details any where.

What I had was a card filled in by her friend (a regular at the group). Let's call her friend R. But the card has totally different details. Q then gave me the story that her friend R had registered her and used a different name, using R's own address.

The child registered had moved up the waiting list and was invited to attend back in September. Q showed up once. (This is what she claimed, but we cannot now be sure although that card was stamped with a September date. She alluded to how when she last came I had asked her to change the address, but she had not done so.).

Any way, we never saw Q again for weeks. Usually children who have missed three consecutive weeks without giving us notice would be removed from the roll so that other children could have their place instead. But because we did not have her up-to-date address, we were not able to contact her.

So there were two things against Q: registering with a different name and subsequently not showing up for weeks. We had already decided in December that the person R had registered was coming off our rolls any way due to her long absence. It has taken us this long to remove her only because we could not contact her.

Q's excuse for her absence was that she was away on holiday for two months. 'Two months!' I thought, how nice it would be if I could go away on holiday for two months. But that's a different matter.

We also found it suspicious that Q's details were completely different from what we have on file (ie as given by her friend R). They were not slightly different. They were completely different.
The card I have shows a different name for the child and the mother, a different surname, and a different date of birth. Q's excuse was that her friend R knows her son by a different name.

'Why do you call your son by a different name?' I asked.

'Because I like that name'. That was all too convenient.

What about Q's own name? Did R also know Q by another name?

My hypothesis is that her friend R had indeed registered a friend, but it was a different friend who has decided to forgo her place. As with many newly-arrived immigrants and refugees we have contact with, there is often a lot of movement. When the toddler place became available, R has asked Q to pose as the person whose name was put on the waiting list.

In other words, Q (possibly on the advice of her friend R) is now giving us this story about a 'wrong' name to leap-frog the long waiting list.

As I write this it has suddenly occurred to me that Q has never given us a proper address. This is a slightly different matter. Today, when I asked for her details it was 'I've just moved and I don't know the new address.'

But she can't be so new at this address that a health visitor has called to say her son should go to a PNT group, which was what Q told me. We know the wheels of bureaucracy turn too slowly. One cannot expect to move into a new home and expect the health visitor to come straightaway to the new address.

So she can't be so new at this address. And if she does have all those difficulties with understanding English, surely she should be carrying her address with her everywhere just in case she needs it.

The plot thickens. Later, on further questioning, she claimed that she was still staying with her friend R who first registered her. There was never any consistency in her story.

What is Q trying to hide?

We run what we consider a community service and I find it very hard when people try to take advantage of us because as Christians we are supposed to be nice and helpful. There was a case when a mother claimed that she had lost £100 while her buggy was parked in our hall.

We said to her, perhaps she should make a police report. The best we could do was make an announcement to see if someone might have found something.

She refused to make a police report. And as another volunteer pointed out, for someone who's lost £100 in cash, she didn't seem very bothered. So we do get folks like that who think that just because we are a church, we could be taken for a ride.

The hardest thing for me was to be so firm and so 'not nice' to a mother who might have genuine needs that she could not discuss with me. But I find it so, so very hard to be nice when I know or suspect in this case, that there is something very, very dodgy in this whole matter.

Is it because this woman and her friend come from a culture where it is normal to have two or three different names? Is she just trying to dodge having to give us her real address?

Would making her carry an Identity Card make a difference?

What if -- had she continued using someone else's identity -- there was indeed a fire and I had run out with those cards and reported to the authorities that a child and mother cannot be accounted for?

My mind boggles and I am not satisfied that I have all the answers.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You are getting messed around, tell them to provide the correct information or to take a hike.