It’s been a distressing week for Irish parents, shocked by television footage of neglect and mistreatment of small children at three crèches, exposed in an undercover RTE investigation. The private childcare sector has mushroomed in Ireland over the past two decades and the inspection system is inadequate to say the least. So not only are Irish parents paying the highest fees for day care in Europe, they are now faced with the horrible fear that their children may not be safe.
The truth is that the vast majority of children cared for outside the home are well-treated and thriving in a familiar environment, just as most children cared for one-to-one in a home setting are loved and cherished. We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that good childcare is good for the child, regardless of the category, but unfortunately bad situations exist across the board.
The model of the mother at home all day to care for her children should not for a moment be idealised. Mothers lose their temper and their patience, many still hit their children. Some are isolated, depressed, or bored at home. There is no footage of their interaction with their children behind closed doors.
Parents automatically question the important decisions they make for their children and need no encouragement to feel guilty. We want desperately to get it right. There is nothing more important than the well-being of our children, which is why the last thing working parents need is a blanket condemnation of day care.
This morning we heard from an übermother on Irish radio sneering at “shiny corporate crèches” and telling us that children under the age of three should not be cared for in a group setting – full stop. If this is where the debate is heading then let’s call off the hounds. Such a simplistic and unfair pronouncement does nothing to help parents trying to make choices from realistic options, the thousands of families who put their trust in good people and come back to happy children at the end of the day.
No one way of looking after children trumps all others. Mothers, fathers, grandparents, neighbours, crèche workers and childminders are all fallible and can give children the very best and worst of themselves. It’s a cheap shot to question the whole validity of day care on the basis of some bad cases. That is a test no category of childcare will pass.