Panic has its uses – often only evident after the fuss has died
down. The latest furore is focused on child care. Nurseries are
allegedly “turning children into thugs” before they are out of
The National Institute of Child Health and Development in the US
has followed the progress of over 1,000 children since 1991. It’s
study concludes: “The more time children spend in child care from
birth to the age of four and a half, the more adults tended to rate
them as less likely to get along with others, as more assertive,
more disobedient and aggressive.”
The British study, the Effective Provision of Pre-School Education,
decided that extensive use of group care particularly before the
age of two is associated with, “higher levels of anti-social
behaviour at the age of three.”
Take a closer look at the research, however, and the problem is not
child care for the very young – but the quality of care that’s on
offer and the degree of work undertaken to develop the parental
role at home. Children require responsive individual attention for
significant parts of the day provided by highly qualified and
motivated staff who aren’t constantly changing.
We know if a parent is depressed or otherwise less able to cope,
the appropriate investment of attention in a child is a pipe dream.
Yet, this latest “row” reduces the benefits of a range of child
care to an erroneous conclusion – mother is always best.
Some good may emerge, nonetheless, if this latest scare is
transformed into an opportunity to fight even harder for a better
skilled work force and a greater display of sensitivity to
children. At present, some nurseries are run like junior squaddie
camps to a rigid routine to suit staff. It doesn’t have to be like
that. A relaxed structure in tune with the latest ideas in child
development is advocated in a scheme by the profit-making Grass
Roots Group, involved in child care, called “Care Aware.” Its
informative manual shows how many child care practices go against
the grain of what is best for the child and suggests alternatives.
For instance, children should be able to nap when they are tired
and not only at the allotted time. It also advocates play as fun
for its own sake not a timetabled opportunity for adult controlled
junior cerebral development. It doesn’t require expensive research
to deduce that if babies are treated like battery chicks by poorly
paid adults on automatic pilot, they soon grow angry. Who wouldn’t?