Nanny in NYC

A modern day Mary Poppins

Friday, March 10, 2006

The Nanny State

Just yesterday I was complaining about the Supernanny TV trend and my fears that people watching may be unable to recognize that the type of "nanny" portrayed on that kind of show are in fact parental fantasies and nothing like the reality of employing a nanny. So, you can imagine my anguish at finding this article from last week's Sunday Times in Britain about a plan put forward by the UK's "Home Office" to employ an army of "supernannies" to help curb antisocial behavior.

Apparently there is a classification system in the UK which identifies certain families as "antisocial." Not knowing a lot about British politics, I can only speculate on what would qualify a family for that status, but these "supernannies"
will arrive early each morning to ensure the household is out of bed and youngsters sent to school. Their tasks will include ensuring children are properly fed and dressed, and encouraging layabout parents to find a job.
The plan is based on a small pilot program in Dundee in which

"intensive rehabilitation" work with problem families had high success rates.

Those targeted in the scheme were taught parenting skills, cookery, budgeting and anger management. They were also coached in "roles and responsibilities within the family," a technique used by Jo Frost, the star of the Supernanny show.

Which begs the question: how long before Ms. Frost runs for parliament?

I don't believe I have to worry about the merits or problems of a plan such as this, as it would never, ever, ever happen in America. (The National Center for Policy Analysis claims the program requires a cost of $26,000 US dollars per family.) But it does completely prove my point.

The people who will make up this army of "supernannies" are in fact highly qualified social workers with advanced degrees in healthcare, nursing or child welfare services. If the families with whom they work fail to implement changes in their child rearing the consequences will be mammoth, including the removal of the children from the home. These social workers are government agents with an incredible amount of power in the lives of the families they will work with. To call them "nannies" cheapens their roles in the government, their level of education and their effect on the British family.

On the other hand, to have people such as these social workers associated with the word "nanny" is, in my opinion, harmful to those who actually are nannies. It is a challenge to affect change within a family from a inferior position, and frequently that is the role of a nanny. Even Mary Poppins, the character who is constantly invoked by the Supernanny TV shows, worked her magic on the Banks family in a passive way. She didn't come in dictating to Mr. and Mrs. Banks. She didn't coach them in their "roles and responsibilities within the family." She was subtle. Now of course, she was also fictional, but I think that too often we remember her for the fact that she improved the Banks family and forget the ways in which she worked.

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