Candle ban takes the cake

Austin Smit blows out the candles on a cake at Amy Hurd Child Care Centre in Kooringal while his friend Sarah Hardy, 4, looks on. Photo: ADDISON HAMILTON
Austin Smit blows out the candles on a cake at Amy Hurd Child Care Centre in Kooringal while his friend Sarah Hardy, 4, looks on. Photo: ADDISON HAMILTON

Hygiene guidelines that recommend birthday celebrations at childcare centres have separate cakes for candle-blowing and for eating have whipped up controversy among providers and parents. 

The National Health and Medical Research Council’s new guidelines state that, to prevent the spread of germs, parents should provide a cupcake with a candle for the birthday child to blow out and another cake for the other children.

The guidelines are designed to help childcare providers meet the National Quality Framework, but are not enforceable rules.

But Rebecca Bailey, director of St Mark’s Preschool in Tamworth, says she believes they go too far.

She said if the preschool had a child who was undergoing chemotherapy or had an immune deficiency they would be relevant, but for most of the children it was “going to the extreme”.

The germs spread through the blowing out of candles were minimal compared to what kids were exposed to throughout the course of a day, she said.

“It’s another example of putting kids in a bubble,” Mrs Bailey said.

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Jenny Nechvatal, director of Amy Hurd Child Care Centre in Wagga Wagga, thinks it's political correctness gone mad and it could deprive the kids the chance to enjoy one of the highlights of any day at childcare.

"It's one of their favourite times," she said.

"They love to bring in their cakes.

"They're very excited when it's their birthday and bringing a cake in to share with their friends."

But Mrs Nechvatal did say her centre would look into its policies following the release of the new NHMRC guidelines.

"We would really need to read into it further, find out some more information and then make decisions in conjunction with our parents and educators," she said.

The majority of comments on The Northern Daily Leader's Facebook page were also critical, questioning the guidelines’ effectiveness in stopping the spread of germs among kids and saying children needed to be exposed.

But one commenter, who said they worked in childcare, believed it was a good idea.

Karen McIlveen, from Peter Pan Preschool, said the centre had not let children blow out the candles on birthday cakes for more than a year.

“We just find a lot of children can’t blow them out without spitting,” Mrs McIlveen said.

The children still have Happy Birthday sung to them and get a sticker.

Mrs McIlveen said most parents understood why the policy was introduced and seemed pleased with it.

Health Minister Tanya Plibersek said a “degree of common sense” was needed.

“We’re not going to have the cupcake police out, but childcare centres know that whatever they can do to reduce infections in childcare centres is going to be good for the kids, good for the families they support and good for childcare workers,” Ms Plibersek told reporters.

For those who want an alternative, there is such a thing as a “Slobber Stopper” – a plastic shield for the cake that has slots for candles on top.

Other guidelines recommend children should wash their hands before and after playing in the sandpit and with playdough, and toys should be washed at least daily.


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