New research which claims children fare best when looked after by their mothers has been criticised by the Equal Opportunities Commission for following out-of-date assumptions and ignoring the role of fathers.
The initial findings of a seven year study into children aged 0-3 by child care expert Dr Penelope Leach reveal that those cared for by their mothers did better in development tests than those cared for in nurseries, by childminders or by other relatives.
Leach insisted that her findings should not be interpreted as a demand for mothers to stay at home, but for advancing the need for high quality child care.
But EOC chair Jenny Watson said the study was too narrow: “The debate we need to have is not about what mothers should or shouldn’t be doing, but how government policy can support entire families and catch up with changing attitudes.”
Pre-School Learning Alliance chief executive Steve Alexander said the research pointed to a need for better training and development of childminders and nursery staff, and that more needed to be done to ensure parents were “at the heart of child care services”.
The Child Poverty Action Group added that it was important to keep in mind that, for many parents, staying at home was “simply not an option”.
Head of policy and research Dr Paul Dornan said: “As the benefits system does not provide an adequate safety net many mothers, particularly but not exclusively lone parents, have to go to work simply to make ends meet for their families.”
The government is expected to announce later this week as part of its Work and Families Bill that, in the future, fathers will be entitled to six months unpaid paternity leave.
But the EOC is calling on the government to introduce paid shared parental leave arguing that, with just 4% of parents currently taking up unpaid parental leave, the new policy would be “ineffective”.