Government's childcare reforms 'put children at risk'

Catherine Gaunt
Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Reforms to increase ratios to allow nursery staff and childminder to look after more children are at odds with Government policy to foster close one-to-one bonds with children, an early years expert will say today.

Dr Carole Ulanowsky, a speaker at What About the Children?’s (WATCh?) annual conference, will tell delegates that while Ofsted guidance emphasises the need for a close bond between child and carer, the proposed ratio changes will make this very difficult.

 In her speech, Dr Ulanowsky, an associate lecturer at the University of Northampton, will say, ‘Child/carer relationships in the first three years of life have the biggest impact on health and happiness – and not just in childhood, but continuing into adulthood. To jeopardise that by overloading nursery staff, is to put children’s futures at risk. Government will require the staff working with the higher ratios to be better qualified - which we welcome - but regardless of how qualified you are, you only have one lap and two arms.

‘Under-threes cannot be lumped in with three- to four-year-olds when addressing curriculum. It is appropriate for three- to four-year-olds to focus more on education and learning, but not for the nought to two-year-olds. In these formative years it is emotional intelligence which needs to be nurtured and this can best be done by forming a close bond with one person who is consistently available.’

Celebrating its 20th year, WATCh? promotes better understanding by parents, professionals and policy makers of a child’s first three years and their need for responsive, loving care for optimal brain development.

Chair Lydia Kyte told Nursery World, ‘The Government tends to talk about the under-fives. I don’t think policy makers really fully appreciate the longterm implications of the first three years. We want to explain to a wider audience that what really happens in the first three years has a great impact, so that more people take notice.’

The conference programme features eminent speakers, including the organisation’s president Professor Denis Pereira Gray, former president of the Royal College of General Practitioners, Robin Balbernie, consultant child and adolescent psychotherapist at Gloucester CAMHS and David Howe, emeritus professor of social work at the university of East Anglia, and John Carnochan, head of Strathclyde Police’s Violence Reduction Unit.

Mr Carnochan said, ‘Violence affects us all, no matter who we are, no matter where we live. Much is made of the need for more police on the streets. But while this would undoubtedly reduce violent crime in the short term, in the long term 1,000 health visitors would be more effective than 1,000 police officers. Early years education and support is key to reducing violence in the long term. It’s the nearest thing to magic without being magic. And that is why it’s a vital part of the Unit’s work.’

A Department for Education spokesperson said, 'Our reforms are good for childcare. The OECD says that staff qualifications are the best predictor of the quality of early childhood education and care.
 
'Only providers with well-qualified staff will be able to move to higher ratios which will be optional. If nurseries can take on more children then they will be able to invest in their staff, pay them more and attract great people into the profession.'
 
'Moreover, we are making Ofsted the sole arbiter of quality.'

Professor Pereira Gray will give the Goodman lecture in memory of Doreen Goodman, who founded WATCh? in 1993 with Susannah Clasen.

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