Friday 28 October 2016

Victoria White: Let's not pretend this childcare plan is about helping our children

James Reilly
James Reilly

I thought I was going to be sick over the dashboard.

Minister for Children James Reilly was on the radio coming out with nonsense about the impact of childcare on young children.

No doubt he believes what he's saying. He's read the Government's inter-departmental plan for childcare provision, which he says offers "a clear roadmap" for the future.

And it's full of holes.

Again, I'm sure the authors believe what they've written.

But the entire "roadmap" is based on one requirement and that's getting women into the workforce to grease the revving engine of the economy.

That's not a particularly useful starting point when you're looking at the welfare of children.


The minister repeated what the report says - that children fare best with their parents until the age of one and after that they fare better in centre-based care. The second time he went at the subject on air he qualified his statement that kids do better in centres than at home with the words "certainly after the age of two".

But it's still baloney.

Most children of two don't do better in centres than at home.

The inter-departmental committee has done the usual trick of looking at outcomes for disadvantaged children who would do better anywhere than at home and generalising them for the whole economy.

But even the UK childcare expert they quote, Ted Melhuish, spells out that research into the effects of preschool on kids under three has had mixed results.

For kids from advantaged homes, good quality pre-school under the age of three years offers no benefits in educational development.

Bad quality pre-school produces deficits in development.

Most kids benefit from pre-school when they're over three years old, but when they're under two years old long hours of childcare makes kids more at risk of anti-social behaviour. That's the polar opposite of what James Reilly said on the radio this week.

The Minister went as far as to say that all one to five-year-olds benefit from "good quality childcare, such as the ECCE programme".

The kids will have, says the good doctor, "much less social problems in later life and much less anti-social behaviour".

Oh, and let's not forget the "highly-educated workforce" which we won't have if little Johnny doesn't do his building blocks under the watchful eye of an "expert" who has got her FETAC level 5 and gets paid a bag of buttons at the end of the week.

How anyone could fall for this is beyond me.

No, actually, it isn't.

Because as the Minister says, "Ireland is going back to work" and barriers - that's children - which prevent women going back to work have to be removed.

If not by force, then by persuasion. Persuasion that removing the barriers and putting them in cold storage for long hours is good for them.

It's what the EU wants, after all. The same EU which announced it wanted 60pc of our women in the workforce a decade ago, without asking any of the women what they wanted.

And without considering children's welfare.


Because we were at war. At war with China and America for our share of the global economy.

I wouldn't mind at all if the minister and his government came clean about the economic imperatives and said that we can't achieve the goals we've set ourselves if more of you don't go back to work and this is how we'll do it.

Then we could have a discussion about why children are more at risk of poverty when their mother isn't working outside the home.

And people like me could pitch in and say, "Let's make it less costly for the parents who want to stay home if that's what they want."

But let's not pretend this is about children.

That's a hypocrisy too far.

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