Monday, 17 October 2022

Have we forgotten the child in the childcare debate?

I have been thinking about this piece for a really long time and am so pleased that Prospect commissioned me to write it.

Whilst there has been lots of coverage of the childcare crisis in the UK, little of it asks: what’s best for the child?

I consulted a range of child development experts whilst researching this piece and one – Dona Matthews – wrote her own extensive response to my question and turned it into a piece for Psychology Today which is well worth reading. She acknowledges the complexity of the subject, saying:

I’m an ardent feminist, believing in women’s right to choose how to proceed with their own pregnancies, and in their career development opportunities, including the need to close the gender pay gap. It’s tricky, though, because I am also an advocate for children’s optimal development, and know that children do best with consistent, attentive, curious, and loving caregivers, especially in the early years.

I want us to be honest about the fact that there’s a tension between freeing parents to work and giving babies and toddlers the best start in life.

I’ve been increasingly frustrated by media coverage which frames universal childcare as good for parents, good for the economy and good for children. Sorry, where’s the evidence that group childcare is developmentally beneficial for babies and toddlers? The needs of babies, toddlers and pre-school children are each quite distinct and shouldn’t be bundled together.

Penelope Leach says we have a ‘baby blindspot’ in policy-making and I think she’s dead right. I loved reading Penelope’s books and her introduction to ‘Who Cares?’ is a masterpiece. I could weep that she said all this in the 1970s and yet we still woefully undervalue the care of small children.