Friday, December 12, 2008

Shame of Being Last For Our Kids | From Ireland

Nobody should be complacent about the latest Unicef report into childcare services. Out of 25 developed countries, it ranked Ireland joint last. Last!

We are the worst. We put fewest resources and least thought into how our children are raised.
Let's see who's better than us: Slovenia, for a start (10th); South Korea (18th) and even Mexico (19th) rank higher than we do.

The news about pig farmers, medical cards, cervical vaccinations and recession is depressing, but surely being shown up for our don't-care attitude when it comes to childcare is really worse?

In fact, Ireland meets only one of 10 benchmarks of minimum standards for protecting children's rights.

But while the report should leave the Government feeling embarrassed over its lack of insight and planning, it is mums and dads who will feel most of the guilt.

The Unicef report claims that babies who are placed in childcare before the age of 12 months can suffer psychological harm and fare poorly at school, and that aggressive behaviour learned by some children at nurseries may contribute later to classroom disruption and anti-social behaviour.

It says we are taking a "high-stakes gamble with today's children and tomorrow's world" and that formal childcare settings such as creches "may weaken the attachment between parents and child". It raises doubts about the long-term impact on children's development.
"The younger the child and the longer the hours spent in childcare, the greater the risk. In particular, long hours of childcare for those under the age of one year is widely regarded as inappropriate," it went on.

So, while you thought you were doing the best thing for your baby by finding a good creche, interviewing kind carers and forking out thousands in fees so that your baby gets the best while you join the long commute and breathe a sigh of relief that at least he or she is being stimulated and cared for while you slog away to pay for it, it seems you were wrong.

And, if you're a nice, middle-class family with high values about education and social development, it's even worse. Unicef claims that while formal childcare arrangements can benefit disadvantaged children by offering them stimulation and development they might not get at home, children from wealthier families might end up suffering behavioural and aggression problems in school from not being attached to mummy's hip all day.

Of course, for the vast majority of couples, opting for childcare is something they don't have the choices about that Unicef would wish, because we don't live in an ideal world. Ideally, mums or dads would be able to stay at home full time for the first year or two of baby's life (assuming it didn't drive them bonkers). Everyone knows this: it certainly doesn't take a lengthy report to tell us.

In an ideal world (or any Nordic country) governments would also know this and create policies to allow it to happen.

But in the real world (Ireland), families have to eat, pay the mortgage and bills while they have a Government which thinks nothing of cutting education budgets in schools and actually creating a situation where more tax is paid by a couple where one of them chooses to stay at home.
So, as women are being encouraged to enter the workforce and do so in large numbers, they are made to feel bad all over again by research such as this. But having your child in a loving, nurturing childcare facility does not produce an anti-social bully in later life. Having parents who don't give a toss about where their kids are and what they are doing, does.

It would be nice to think that someone in Leinster House was actually going to sit down and read this report or even consider altering social policy to address some of its concerns. Much more likely, sadly, is that people in Barnardos and the Children's Ombudsman will keep banging their heads against their respective brick walls, as will the thousands of parents around the country who wish things could be different.

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