THE BBC’s recent programme Nurseries Undercover revealed cases of abuse in privately owned nurseries. It provoked many headlines and much anxiety for parents of young children.
It is an indictment of our childcare system that the childcare debate only makes the news when there are allegations of abuse. This is an urgent debate, and we have to start looking at fundamental flaws in the system.
Preschool age children need individual attention, affection and respect—which good quality childcare centres deliver. Children in such centres typically display better social skills.
They are also happier, more confident and develop better abilities to concentrate. Moreover, they tend to do better in school later on, according to research published in National Childcare Week in June.
All this flies in the face of many right wingers who like to claim that nursery education is positively harmful to children, who should be left to be brought up in the bosom of the home. They ignore the reality of family life in Britain today.
If daycare, early education and family support are combined, as is the case in a number of pilot schemes, then parents, children and the community all benefit.
Yet unfortunately the reality of childcare does not always come close to achieving this—as demonstrated by the poor level of care that the BBC programme exposed.
There are about 100,000 childcare workers in Britain, of whom 95 percent are women. Their average age is 32. Only half of them have qualifications related to childcare.
This is not to criticise my fellow childcare workers. Rather, the poor levels of training and pay are an indictment of the low priority given to early years education and care.
Parents in Britain pay for 75 percent of childcare out of their own pockets. We are 20 to 30 years behind other European countries on this—Denmark spends six times more than Britain on preschool childcare.
In London and the south east the cost of a nursery place averages £6,500 a year. Only 5 percent of employers help towards childcare costs or offer workplace nursery places.
Forty percent of employees have dependent children, 58 percent of women with a child under five work, and 40 percent of women work over 40 hours a week.
Some 61 percent of families have parents who work shifts during evenings, early mornings, nights or weekends. In this situation it is not enough to say childcare should rest with parents.
They deserve the right to choose to send their children to nurseries or daycare centres if they so wish.
The 2004 Childcare Cost Survey showed that childcare costs rose by more than inflation for the third year running.
Meanwhile nurseries have become big businesses, with large corporate concerns moving in to make profits at the expense of children’s needs.
Childcare provision can be helpful to children’s development and wellbeing, provided it is not run for profit. Preschool childcare is especially beneficial.
As a childcare worker, I bristle when I hear people talk about the “nanny state”.
My motto is “Why not a Mary Poppins state?” What a happy world this could then be.