Last week, the Courier Mail wrote a gushing advertisement for a sleep training service. This seems to be one of those bread and butter topics for mainstream media, there’s a pretty steady stream of articles and segments touting one ‘baby whisperer’ or another, filled with language about ‘manipulative’ or ‘wrong’ babies that need to be ‘fixed’.
What particularly struck me about this fairly mundane article, was the mention of the ‘training’ the sleep trainer went through. She wasn’t involved in a paediatric health field, (or any health field) before becoming a sleep trainer. Instead she ‘retrained’ to become one.
There’s nothing wrong with retraining. I did a post graduate degree in teaching, so was surrounded by others ‘retraining’ to become teachers. We all had 3 or 4 year degrees in our past (one of my friends had a PhD in Chemistry) and then completed 2 more years university with around 400 hours of practical teaching (and most of us would have liked more). I was then allowed to teach in a classroom on my own, but had to complete more hours to become a ‘full’ teacher, both under the Queensland College of Teachers (a regulatory body, overseen by the government) and Education Queensland (my employer).
With that in my background, I was really interested to see what kind of training would be required to become an Infant Sleep Trainer – particularly since these people often offer advice on mental and medical issues babies might be having.
So far, I’ve found three different training courses. One from the Maternity Institute (which I think might be like the Ponds Institute) is called the IMI Maternity & Child Sleep Consultant Certification program. This is a 12 week online course which covers a range of sleep related topics, as well as “The Business Basics Of Sleep: What is involved and what you need to get started” and “an in-depth look at green and eco-friendly sleep practices” (Eco-friendly sleep practices? What is eco-unfriendly about sleeping?) This course is the cheapest at a sale price of $1550 (American), though there are additional add ons you can pay for.
The next course comes from the Family Sleep Institute and is the FSI Child Sleep Consultant Certification. This course, which involves a 4 week pre course and then a 12 week course, with 70+ hours of teaching material, “allows our certifying graduates to confidently run their own private and independent child sleep consulting practices as soon as they graduate.” (No probationary period here). This course, which entitles you to free promotion of your business, includes lessons in “Business Aspects: Website Design, Database Management, Marketing, Pricing” This course will cost you around $3000 (American)
Finally there was the Gentle Sleep Coach (though I could find no information on her ‘gentle’ sleep coaching practices) and the Gentle Sleep Coach Training and Certification Program. This course touts itself as being the most comprehensive training course around, so possibly closer to the kind of training you would expect from other professionals (teachers or doctors) working with children? Or 80+ hours of training. And what do you pay for the 80+ hours? $4995 for the additional program, plus $1000 a year to be certified. (By the way, my yearly teacher certification cost about $60. A professional engineer in Australia would pay around $600) Parting with that $1000 a year allows you benefits, including “use of the GSC logo and business resources”
Wait a minute. Doesn’t that sound awfully like a franchise? So are people actually paying for these programs to become trained health or counseling professionals? Or are they paying to be part of a franchise?
The focus on ‘business practices’, the talk of ‘a career you can have when you have kids’, the franchise nature of some of these programs – plus the minimal work you need to put in to be fully certified. More and more, this is sounding like Avon or Tupperware or other products you ‘sell’ to other people. Except we’re not talking about makeup or plastic goods here – we’re talking about babies, and possibly the mental health of parents and their children.
I’ve got no doubt that there are many well meaning sleep trainers out there. There are probably those with additional medical degrees, possibly even ones in mental health. But there is no regulatory body, no government oversight, no place to turn if the advice, routines or procedures turn wrong. And the training available is simply not rigorous enough to allow these people to work with our children. We wouldn’t allow teachers into the classroom after 70 hours of study, even with ‘on the job learning’ there’s simply no way they would be prepared to work with our children.
There’s also the fact that the majority of these courses are online – and then allow you to call yourself a ‘baby whisperer’ or to pose as a ‘sleep expert’. That would be like calling myself an expert on global history, because I’ve taken (an equivalent length) online course. (So if you want to spend $300 to get advise on Global History, drop me a line)
Parents in need of sleep help, of real help, are usually pretty desperate. They don’t have the time to look at the backgrounds, the qualifications, the training of ‘sleep experts’. They don’t have the time to sort the good from the bad. When they see the word ‘certified’ it needs to mean something. Instead, what they’re getting at the moment, if a bunch of certified people who might have taken a 12 week course and is looking to make a quick buck off your distress, or might have 30 years working as a sleep trainer, as well as degrees in nursing, or training as a lactation counsellor. There’s a place for the latter, especially as support for tired parents. There is no place for the former to be working with our children.
There needs to be more government oversight, there needs to be a proper regulatory body, there needs to be acknowledgement that no matter what you might think about sleep training, this is too important to be left to people who don’t have adequate training or who might just be in it to make some money.