Anti-choking confusion isn't going away

If you think the anti-choking guidelines issue has settled down, ask those on the front line trying to make sense of it all. Recent commentary suggests that if the Ministry of Health’s directives are easy to understand and apply, then “...why wouldn’t we do it?”

If only it were so easy. To balance this korero, we’d like to point out:

  • The MOH guidelines are exactly that – guidelines. They were never intended to be treated as black-and-white rules
  • Treating the guidelines as guidelines allows parents and childcare services to respond to the needs of individual children, some of whom are learning to chew and treat food responsibly, while others aren’t ready yet
  • At the end of the day, imposing a list of banned foods is not going to guarantee children may not choke. The key issue is to ensure all children are appropriately supervised while eating and the staff doing so have the first aid training to respond appropriately to any incident. The Ministry requires one teacher with first aid training for every 25 children, and hasn’t changed the supervision requirements
  • The Ministry imposes the rules on early learning services that provide food, but not on food supplied by parents in lunchboxes. This duality makes a mockery of the goal of preventing choking
  • The anti-choking stance taken by the Ministry ignores the fact that children can choke on anything, not just some types of food

As the largest membership body in the sector, we do take issue with the approach taken by the Ministry. If the goal is preventing children choking, we feel this approach is unworkable.

We applaud the Ministry’s intent and have always sympathised with the events that led us here, but this change falls short of giving parents the assurance they deserve.

We have proposed to the Ministry and the Minister that treating the risk of children choking – on anything - as a health and safety issue is far more workable and appropriate.

All services should include choking in their Hazard and Risk Management Plan and should have identified a range of ways they’ll monitor and manage the risk. And all staff that engage with children should be appropriately first-aid trained.

We have also invited centres to write to Minister Hipkins to express their frustration over this change. Unfortunately, the Minister has chosen to send a template latter to all those who contact him, suggesting he doesn’t take their concerns seriously. WE have invited concerned services to encourage their parents to write to the Minister in the hope that hearing from parents might influence this dopey decision.

We want steps to minimise the risk of children choking that work, not this piecemeal approach.

We sincerely hope the ongoing engagement on this issue will get us closer to a workable solution for everyone.