Bob McCoskrie: A child's place is in the home

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The impending opening of the first 24-hour childcare centre in Auckland, while well-intentioned, is simply an expansion of the most untested social experiment we have done on children.

As child expert and author Steve Biddulph says, childcare is too much, too early and too long for our children. Yet our Government seems totally focused on pouring millions of taxpayers' money into encouraging parents to leave their children for longer periods of time in daycare.

It has been argued that 24-hour childcare is a reflection of changing working patterns and family arrangements. Parents deserve time out and don't always have access to relatives or friends to care for children.

Yet is childcare the solution? Is this what's best for children, or is this more about convenience for parents? Why does the Government pay millions for professionals to care for our children, but offer no tax breaks or financial recognition for parents who do it?

Despite the investment in the childcare industry by the Government, the majority of families with young children are sacrificing double incomes to have stay-home parents.

Why are women going against the feminist movement and saying we want to be home-based mums, recently labelled by Cosmopolitan magazine as the 'new housewife wannabes'?

Why are solo parents enduring the stigma of being on the Domestic Purposes Benefit so they can parent fulltime?

The Government is patting itself on the back for allowing 14 week's paid parental leave - that's 14 weeks for mum to bond with baby, recover from pregnancy and childbirth, and establish a breastfeeding and daily routine (the Ministry of Health recommends six month's breastfeeding) ready to go back to work while baby goes into childcare.

A Department of Labour study found that 70-75 per cent of mums want at least 12 month's paid parental leave. Most mums are going back to work after 6 months, not because they want to, but because of financial necessity.

Meanwhile, countries like the Czech Republic, Estonia, France and Germany offer three years paid parental leave. In some Nordic counties, there is paid paternity leave.

So what's wrong with childcare? What do mothers know that the Government doesn't? The US National Institute of Child Health and Human Development survey found that children who spend from as little as 10 hours a week in childcare were three times more likely to exhibit behavioural problems as those cared for by their mother. Surprisingly, the effect was long-term, with teachers more likely to report difficult behaviour in childcare children, even up to the age of 12.

The Canadian Psychological Association's meta-analysis of 88 studies showed that more than 20 hours of childcare a week had a negative effect on children's development, behaviour, and issues of attachment.

The University of British Columbia discovered that children in daycare were 17 times more hostile, and almost three times more anxious. A Cambridge University study found that the stress hormone cortisol doubled in children during the first nine days of childcare and was still relatively high several months later, despite there being no outward signs.

But of equal concern is that the British Columbia University study found the well-being of the parents also deteriorated. Mothers of children in daycare were more depressed, the quality of their parenting practices declined, and there was a significant deterioration in the quality of their relationship with their spouses/partners.

Research just published by our the Ministry of Social Development found that a third of all working couples say they are unhappy they both have to work. And almost 60 per cent of mums with children under the age of three are rejecting work and are choosing to be fulltime mums.

Fulltime hands-on parenting is a child's right. For parents, and especially solo parents, they shouldn't be being forced to compromise good parenting because they have to work full time to survive financially.

Over-worked parents, extended childcare and wealth don't buy happiness - strong marriages, good parent/child interaction and loving families do. Parents know that. It's a pity the Government doesn't.

* Bob McCoskrie is national director of Family First New Zealand

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