Child Care, 'Letter to Mrs Ruth Kelly. Minister for Education'

Letter to Mrs Ruth Kelly. Minister for Education

Dear Mrs Kelly,

I read a remark attributed to you when you were commenting on proposed pilots for the free nursery care of two-year olds. You implied that the best nursery care is good for children - without qualification.

Recent studies have shown that the quality of nursery care does not compensate for damage done by 'too early. too much and too long'. One of the most significant books I ever read was John Bowlby's 'Child Care and the Growth of Love'. What he noticed has been made precise by the availability of MRI and the work of Dr Alan Schore. The development of the brain and emotional intelligence is promoted by an intensity of caring for which only the word love is appropriate and which transcends the capability of a nursery however well staffed. An essential factor is 'maternal sensitivity'. "The earliest bonding between mother (or surrogate) and child takes place in the experiential context of the tactile-sensual modality. In fact, it has been demonstrated that physical skin contact between infant and caretaker is critical to the infant's emotional and cognitive development" (Ethel S.Person). We are into the world of intimacy which belongs to the home. Studies indicate that for the 3-5 age group some pre-school experience can be helpful, for children up to 3 it can be harmful.

Coincidentally the WHO advises that breast feeding should continue for two years and more. The UNICEF web site indicates numerous studies of advantages to both mother and child if breast feeding is extended beyond twelve months. This is supremely an exercise of maternal sensitivity. To separate mother and infant by promotion of nursery care for the under-twos would seem to be a negative strategy, perhaps prompted by the P.C. line of feminist independence and the commercial job market. The fractious teenager is a particular contemporary feature. International studies are indicating a link between early nursery care and behaviour problems. "The trend towards more day nurseries is out of kilter with what the research is finding" (Penelope Leach). The alternative? Extend parental leave. "...the cost of subsidizing child care for the under-twos is broadly comparable to generous parental leave" (Professor Edward Melhuish).

This is what mothers want - and what the children need.