Nick Clegg has said that proposals to relax rules on how many children nursery staff can look after had been "roundly criticised" by parents, providers and experts.
Those who follow my blog will know that I am a stout champion of a mother’s right to raise her children at home, especially when they are very young, without constant government propaganda telling her to put her young ones into day-care while she returns to full-time paid “work.” I put “work” in inverted commas because anyone who thinks that raising children is not the hardest (and most rewarding) work you can do, needs their head examining.
Thus I was relieved to see in yesterday’s Telegraph a small news item with the title “Clegg blocks Tory plans for child care reform”. I would not describe myself generally as a supporter of Nick Clegg; almost everything he espouses, including the current Marriage Bill, closer ties to the EU and working mothers, does not get my vote. Yet in this instance, at least, he has listened to members of the public when they protested against Tory plans to reduce the cost of child care by letting fewer “professionals” look after a larger number of children.
The Deputy Prime Minister said: “The proposals to increase ratios [of children to nursery staff] were put out to consultation and were roundly criticised by parents, providers and experts alike. There is no real evidence that increasing ratios will reduce the cost of child care.”
From September, the ratio for children under one had been due to rise from three per adult to four. Each adult would be able to look after six two-year-olds instead of four. The ratio for three year-olds would stay at eight or 13 children per adult, depending on whether a qualified graduate was present.
I use the word “relieved” because although I disagree with the principle of allowing young children, whether aged one, two or three, to be calculated by ratios in the first place, at least Clegg is, in this instance, preventing a bad situation from becoming worse (even if he is thinking of “costs” rather than the children’s contentment.)
The Spring 2013 edition of Humanum has a long and sobering article on this very subject. Entitled “The Real Trouble with Day-care” and written by researcher and writer Mary Eberstadt, it raises all the questions and concerns that the Coalition chooses not to debate. They include the proven case that “Day-care literally makes children sick and the do so a lot more efficiently than care at home”; this is because more bugs and infections are flying around a larger group in children in a vulnerable age group. Eberstadt cites research that shows that “Day-care employees repeatedly emphasise the problems of having to work not only round sick babies and children, but also round desperate parents who drop off those babies and children at day-care rather than miss a day of work.”
Alongside this is the further worrying research, “well documented if still bitterly resisted, that day-care makes some children more belligerent and aggressive.” Eberstadt adds that “To browse the literature is to learn that many babies and toddlers in institutional care bite and bite a lot.” She makes the point that mothers who have no option but to work know this and see it as a necessary evil. There is also another problem: “If some kids are responding to chronic separation from their mothers with anger, surely others are feeling depressed”.
She notes that once, to stay at home with your children was judged the right thing to do “both intrinsically and for reasons of the greater good, by mothers, fathers, and most of the rest of society. Today, the social expectations are exactly reversed.”
My daughter has just finished a year’s maternity leave from her well-paid job. She had considered going back to it for two days a week, leaving her baby daughter all day in a small nursery for the other three days. Then she thought: what if her daughter got sick? (She was premature and is still a little prone to infections.) She also noticed at the nursery – although clean, bright and cheerful with lots of equipment and the proper staff-baby ratios – that some tiny toddlers spent a lot of time sitting passively and anxiously, their eyes on the door where their mothers had left them; and that others were not just boisterous but demanding and aggressive. She decided that even part-time institutionalising was too much for her daughter.