Join Us
Key Issues
In the news
Letters to editors
Book Reviews

Time for Parenting...

...because raising children is a full-time job

Response to the Childcare Bill as proposed by the Department for Education and Science


Full Time Mothers is unhappy that the proposed Childcare Bill is centred entirely on the non-maternal care of young children by paid employees. This means that:-

A. The developmental needs of children are not acknowledged, due to the emphasis on third party care.

B. The Bill fails to provide for the wishes of those women who choose to look personally after children of tender years.

The proposed Childcare Bill's aim appears to be the expansion and consolidation of an already considerable network of services provided by Local Authorities and private providers which:

- fails to meet the infant's need for secure attachment that can only be assured by consistent and reliable care
- fails to meet school children's need to spend a reasonable amount of time in their homes with their families after school and during school holidays

During the recent election campaign the focus was on "hard-working families". The breadwinner family where the mother remains at home, usually because she finds that paid employment would be incompatible with the needs of her young family, was ignored.

The Government's desire to increase revenue and to reduce the welfare budget by moving ever more mothers into paid work conflicts with their wishes and their children's needs.

A. The needs of young children

1.There is a wealth of evidence showing that institutional daycare is not appropriate for very young children and may in many cases be harmful.

2. Sue Gerhardt, a psychoanalytic psychotherapist working with disturbed or malfunctioning relations between mothers and babies and author of the book 'Why Love Matters: How affection shapes a baby's brain' prioritises the mother as the most influential and necessary part of a baby's life for at least the first two years. " The early care forges pathways in the brain which lay patterns for the emotional habits and reactions shaping our lives." *

3. In a detailed analysis summarising 20 years of research into the impact of daycare, Professor Jay Belsky of Birkbeck College has expressed strong reservations about the increasing use of non-maternal care, particularly for the under-5s. Professor Belsky found, for example, that:

"children who spent more time in childcare during their first five years scored lower on a composite measure of positive adjustment (i.e. peer popularity, teacher rated peer competence) and higher on a composite measure of negative adjustment (i.e. teacher-rated behaviour problems, peer dislike, observed aggression) than children with less childcare experience" **

4. Belsky concludes that "early non-maternal care, as routinely experienced on a full-
or near-full-time basis, poses risks with respect to the development of aggression, non-compliance and problem behaviour" and that such care is also "associated with less harmonious parent-child relations."

5. Professor Belsky argues that Government policies should be geared to providing families with the opportunity to provide parental care in the early years. FTM believes this approach is not only in the immediate interests of children and their families, it will also provide better long-term outcomes. Good mother-child attachment lays down important neurological foundations, improves mental health and is crucial to emotional development, confidence and security.

6. Some of the key findings of the EPPE (Effective Pre-School and Primary Education Project - 1997/2003) study, which now underpins the work of the Sure Start Unit are :

- that full time attendance led to no better gains for children than part time provision
- that the quality of the learning environment of the home (where parents are actively engaged in activities with children) promoted intellectual development in all children. Although parents' social class and levels of education were related to child outcomes, the quality of the home learning environment was more important. The home learning environment is only moderately associated with social class. What parents do is more important than who they are." ***

* Sue Gerhardt - Why Love Matters: How affection shapes a baby's brain - Brunner-Routledge 2004

** Belsky, J., Development Risks (Still) Associated with Early Child Care, Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry
(2001), 42, 845-860

*** EPPE (Effective Pre-School and Primary Education Project - 1997/2003 - University of London

B. The preferences of women and their families

1. The third paragraph of the "Summary of Proposals" appertaining to the proposed Childcare Bill states that "The needs of children and their parents are at the heart of the proposed legislation, with local authorities as the champions of parents and children, ensuring that their views are heard in the planning and delivery of services which reflect the real needs of families."

(a) The needs of children are not at the heart of the proposed legislation
(b) Young children are unable to make their views heard
(c) Only the views of parents who wish to avail themselves of childcare services may be taken into account
(d) The vast sums of money required to set up and run a network of childcare services, not to mention its infra-structure of administrators, staff trainers and inspectors, will need to be provided by the tax payer. There is no mention in the said proposals of measures to recognise the costs born by parents who forgo an income and raise their children at home without recourse to these facilities.

2. In response to the Department of Trade and Industry's consultation document 'Work and Families - Choice and Flexibility', the Minister for Women & Equality invited NETMUMS to respond. In response NETMUMS commissioned its on-line survey 'THE GREAT WORK DEBATE', to which 4000 parents of young children responded. ****

The issue that was highlighted above all others was the need for support for mothers who wanted to spend more time looking after their own children. 47% of the mothers who responded agreed with the statement that "Too many mothers work because they have to, when they would rather be at home with their children." 41% of the mothers who responded agreed with the statement that "Pre-school children should be looked after by their own parents whenever possible." A striking finding was that 32% of respondents who agreed with this statement were in fact working mothers.

In its conclusion NETMUMS state that "The challenge is to reduce the constraints and allow families to make the choices that suit them best, so that they remain contented, of value to society and children are brought up in a positive environment."


It is increasingly evident that stability, security and a good and reliable parent-child relationship are essential to an optimum start in life. Research findings show that long hours in institutional care do not give children the best start in life. Research also shows that parental wishes are at variance with the government's aim to increase maternal participation in the labour market.

Government should therefore recognise the costs and responsibilities that all parents bear by means of neutral support rather than support that is employment linked.

Full Time Mothers
September 2005

**** www.netmums.com - THE GREAT WORK DEBATE - April 2005