Everyone knows that pre-school child care is good for children and for the economy. Patricia Morgan asks for some evidence and argues that only the most expensive care can match a parentby Patricia Morgan / October 20, 1996 / Leave a comment
In the last ten years, child care has become the wonderbag remedy of the western world. To politicians of all stripes in Britain, it holds the key to economic success and social justice: the question is not whether, but how, to subsidise it.
The group Employers for Childcare wants a minister responsible for co-ordinating a national strategy. According to a study by Bronwen Cohen and Neil Fraser for the Institute for Public Policy Research, this will galvanise the economy by flooding it with eager skilled labour and allowing it to run “at a higher level” in one continuous boom time. With “affordable, universally available, quality child care” poor one-income families can be turned into better off two-income ones.
By coincidence-child care has also become the way we are supposed to change children’s lives for the better. The Transport and General Workers’ Union insists that it is as fundamental to the quality of life of the nation’s children as shelter, sustenance, and schooling. It will stimulate their learning and enhance their social development; provide them with secure, happy and healthy surroundings and unleash their potential. Parental care, by comparison, appears to be a form of neglect.
The child care lobby has achieved a tremendous propaganda putsch by equating day care with pre-school nursery education. But furthering maternal employment and early education are two separate goals; a measure which facilitates one may do little or nothing to foster the other. Childminding studies point to a large number of disturbed children with language problems as a result of many unhappy days spent with carers who are often unresponsive and ignorant.
Nursery schools and playgroups are designed for the educational needs of older pre-schoolers, who go there for short periods of two or three hours a day. But children whose mothers have full-time jobs attend day care centres for sometimes eight or ten hours a day. This is considered far too long by most child development experts.
With regard to nursery education, there is no evidence to suggest that anything is gained by extending it beyond a 12-month period between the ages of three and five, or by increasing the hours beyond short half day sessions. Nursery education usually involves developing narrow aspects of intellect and language. It is arguable whether it has any impact on achievement in the long run over and above the influence of family background.
What informs many of…