Parents divided on controversial daycare report

By APNZ staff, Herald Online

File photo / Thinkstock
File photo / Thinkstock

A controversial new report that claims daycare could be harmful to children has revealed a deep divide among parents on how best to raise their kids.

The report, from conservative lobby group Family First, found separating children from their parents to put them in daycare was a significant source of stress for many children, which could be harmful to their immune systems.

Its author, British psychologist Aric Sigman, has been criticised for the research on which the report was based, with one prominent debunker last year labelling it "deliberately incomplete".

The report's publication, which comes after recent controversy over breastfeeding, has revealed a wide range in opinions over whether young children should in daycare.

In an unscientific poll on nzherald.co.nz, 68 per cent of about 8000 voters said daycare was not harmful to children, while 32 per cent believed it was.

Some readers called the report "mother-bashing" while others agreed young children should be cared for by their parents.

Northland father Allan Caple, 55, told APNZ his family was scraping by on his $30,000 income so his wife Leah, 36, could raise their two children.

"We've seen benefits from the children, how they react to us and how we get on as a family - I think it's quite important that we can spend time with them."

The couple felt it was better for their 8-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter to have their mum to come home to from school.

"Early on certainly, when they were pre-school, they really needed the support from mum, we felt."

But it has come at a cost, with Mr Caple sometimes struggling to do the best for his kids.

"We usually budget fairly well in that we have food. Sometimes it's a little less than we would like, but we manage. But we're hanging by the skin of our teeth."

Mr Caple, who works in retail selling automotive parts, said the extra money from Working for Families was only enough to "hang in".

He wants more policies supporting stay-at-home parents, but said it was hard to see where the funding would come from.

Auckland working mum Julianna Hooker, who has chosen to send her 22-month-old to a creche, said the report was just the latest to make working mums feel they couldn't do anything right.

"There will always be a report coming out making us feel bad about it, and there always is. The guilt that gets piled on mothers these days is completely ridiculous - no matter what we do it's wrong," she told APNZ.

"What's best for my child and what's best for me may not be what's best for my neighbour, so everybody's going to do it differently, and each child is different as well."

The 38-year-old insurance assessor said she would like to be a stay-at-home mum but it was not financially viable.

She and her husband got a mortgage last year and his wages alone would not be enough to live on.

'We'd have to sell the house and go back to renting. Honestly, I would lose that security I have for my child.

"Being a homeowner, I want to be able to leave my son something and I want to be comfortable."

Ms Hooker said her son, an only child, got "so much" out of creche and was able to socialise with other children.

"They do things at creche that I would never think up, that I'd never be able to do for him."

The time she spent with her son was "100 per cent quality time".

"Every minute counts and I make sure of that, and I think actually there are bonuses sending him to creche, because the time I spend with him is much more special now."

The report has drawn criticism from childcare and education groups, with Childcare Association chief executive Nancy Bell saying it was not balanced and went too far.

Although it was reasonable to raise questions about the stress children experienced in childcare, the report moved in "leaps and bounds towards a particular position".

The report overstated the complex and inconclusive evidence it was based on, she said.

Ms Bell said there were a lot of benefits to childcare.

"There's been a huge amount of research undertaken to look at the effects of early childhood education on children over many, many years and the summation of that really is that there are positive gains."

Ms Bell said most families had two working parents and staying at home with children was unrealistic without significant changes to Government policy.

Early childhood carers worked hard to provide high-quality care that complimented that offered by parents, and would find the research "derogatory and inflammatory".

Teachers' union the New Zealand Education Institute said the report overstated daycare stresses on children, but highlighted the need for quality early childhood education and better parental leave provisions.

"There's no doubt that children and families benefit from having as much time together as possible and parents often face a difficult decision about if, when and how they can return to work," national executive member Hayley Whitaker said.

Quality early childhood education was pivotal in helping children and families settle into childcare and reducing any stress they may face.

"That means environments where there are qualified teachers who are specialists in child development and early childhood education, good teacher-child ratios and small group sizes."

Family First national director Bob McCoskrie yesterday defended the report, saying it drew on the findings of about 100 other researchers and was not Dr Sigman's opinion.

"I think if you looked at the report you would find it's very well balanced, he's been attacked simply because he's daring to go where no one else has tried.

"I think Aric Sigman is just joining the chorus, we've commissioned the report because it needs to be heard."

- APNZ

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n3 at 23 Sep 2014 18:59:12 Processing Time: 404ms