The TUC has recently publicised figures showing the rise in childcare costs and demanding that government does more to increase the affordability of nursery places. TUC’s Frances O’Grady said, “Parents need subsidised, affordable childcare from as soon as maternity leave finishes to enable them to continue working, and so mums don’t continue to have to make that choice between having a family and a career.”
But are the TUC overlooking something? Do parents really consider having children and family life simply as an interruption to their career?
We often hear the phrase ‘evidence based policy’ . Unfortunately the comments made by the TUC and politicians about the importance of ‘affordable childcare’ and by that they mean ‘outsourced’ childcare rather than care provided at home and by parents, is not borne out by the evidence.
The evidence is that ‘family’ has the greatest influence on children and their wellbeing. Infant brain development, the capacity for empathy and positive relationships are all laid down in the period from conception to age three. Smoking, excess alcholol, and stress during pregnancy all have a detrimental effect on the foetus. Family breakdown is a recurring experience amongst the prison population, excess alcohol during pregnancy and unresponsive and inconsistent care a causal factor of behaviour problems and poor mental health. Consistent, attuned maternal and paternal care in the first 30 to 36 months are vital for early bonding, a secure attachment relationship, and cognitive and emotional development.
Babies come into the world as social beings, ready and seeking to communicate their needs from the moment of birth: ‘I need a cuddle’; ‘I am feeling uncomfortable; ‘I need a clean nappy’; ‘there is too much going on’; I need some peace and quiet’; ‘I am hungry’ ; ‘I have had enough of this rocking’ ; ‘I need to sleep’. But if there is nobody readily available, sufficiently interested, attuned and with time to ‘listen’ and respond to them, babies will give up on their efforts to communicate. Every baby is unique, and every one of them will need a very special sensitivity and time with loving parents, those responsible for bringing them into the world.
But government policies do not reflect the evidence of the importance of warm loving relationships and stable family. Lord Farmer in a debate in Parliament this month said, ‘At every election there are warm words on the subject (the importance of stable home and family) across the political spectrum but to date Governments of all colours have delivered very little when they hold the reins of power’
It really is time for a government strategy that acknowledges the ‘work of parents’, enables them to have the time to develop responsive relationships and supports them in providing a secure and stable home which the evidence has identified, is vital if babies and children are to thrive. Otherwise children will continue to ‘ fare badly when there is no safe, stable and nurturing relationship, whatever the financial circumstances.’ (1)
If society is to increase social mobility, deliver social justice and economic stability, government, the TUC and the media must celebrate the ‘work of parents’ rather than suggesting that the time, love and care they give to their children is not important, has no value and is better ‘outsourced’ to others.
(1) A Manifesto to Strengthen Families
(2)The taxation of families international comparison 2014: