Baby News

Childcare Changes: Concerns

Tuesday 5th of February 2013  |  Category: Baby News  |  Written by: Leoarna Mathias

This week's big news story is the attempt by Liz Truss MP, Children's Minister, to adjust the ratios in nurseries and childminder's homes. In essence, the government feels that the numbers of young children individual childcare professionals can be responsible for can be increased, as long as the level of training and qualification that person has undertaken renders them competent. Currently, Childminders may care for three children under the age of five, including just one baby under twelve months. The proposals suggest raising this to four under-fives, which would mean that a childminder could have two babies and two young toddlers in her care throughout the day, as well as older children before and after school. In day care, childcare practitioners would be able to increase the numbers of babies under 12 months from three to four per adult, and the number of children aged between one and three years from four to six per adult. On first reading these changes may seem rather startling to a new parent, but there are considered arguments both for and against.

Childcare Outside of the UK

In many other western nations there are examples of the ratios of adults to children in care settings being coats and bagshigher than they are currently set here in the UK. In 2005 the Dutch deregulated their childminders to allow for an increase in numbers in line with the proposals Liz Truss is making. But, in recent times, their government has started to back track following research that shows a noticeable deterioration in standards of care. In France, childcarers may look after up to five children under 12 months, and in Denmark, Germany and Sweden no legal limit is set. However, we must bear in mind that some of these nations have entirely different set-ups for their childcare services, with, in most cases, far more direct involvement by the state in the management of provision. No other nation relies as heavily as we do here in the UK on the private and charitable sectors to provide childcare (and education) to our youngest children. Nevertheless, childcare in many of our European neighbour-states operates with greater numbers of children being cared for by individual practitioners, and scandals have not abounded. Ms Truss is pushing hard for the adoption of these models, arguing that childcarers who have completed higher levels of training than are currently required in our system will be equipped to care for a larger cohort of children. As an important aside, she also believes that they will be better able contribute more to the educational development of the children they care for, and, critically in her eyes, that this all might just make childcare more affordable.

Scant Support

A quick scan of the broad sheets newspapers this week would lead most of us to conclude that significant numbers of those with a professional interest in childcare are vehemently opposed to these suggested changes. Childminders are coming together to form a substantial collective in opposition to the changes, with one, Penny Webb, starting an online petition that at the time of writing already has nearly 18,000 signatures gathered in less than a week. On Tuesday's Jeremy Vine Radio 2 show, nursery owner after nursery owner phoned in to say that these measures will not raise standards, make care more affordable, or reassure parents that their children are safe. Columnists from across the political spectrum have dug deeper into the comparisons with other countries and highlighted flaws in Miss Truss' arguments for example in papers such as The Telegraph and The Independent. Revered childcare expert Penelope Leach has added her reasoned voice to the throng on Mumsnet; and parent bloggers across the UK have filled their pages with posts questioning the wisdom of the proposals. The consultation opened this week, and does not close until 25th March. Suffice to say we will witness a great deal more debate via the media on this topic before any changes are passed into law.

Choices to be Made

So where does this leave the new parent, obliged to get back to work, who wants to make the right choice for their child? Here on, we've taken a closer look at the dilemmas facing parents who are in this situation, and we've also given you advice on how to make sure you are choosing quality childcare for your little one. Let's be clear here about the impact on your child of being in organised childcare, (while encouraging you to not be hard on yourself, as you internally reconcile economic reality with your feelings as a parent). Time spent in childcare is not of itself harmful to children but the quality of that childcare does really matter. However, in the light of these potential changes, I would urge you to raise the matter of ratios when meeting with nursery managers or childminders. Explore in detail their take on meeting the needs of each child they care for as fully as possible. You need to be satisfied that your child will get the individual attention he or she deserves.

Perhaps the most compelling concerns raised this week have come from child development specialists, who know better than most what young children need to develop into happy, healthy and emotionally secure adults. They are fearful for the impact these changes might have, almost without exception, they have voiced their worries for the sanctity of children's attachments to their carers, and for all children's safety, if they are compelled to be in ever larger groups. And to their credit, the vast majority of professional childcarers want to get this right for our children, too.

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