I’ve been holding off commenting on the Government’s proposed changes to childcare because it means admitting that I still feel guilty over a fairly major part of her upbringing so far; that there isn’t a day goes by when I don’t question whether or not I did the right thing… whether or not I’m still doing the right thing.
When my maternity leave came to an end with Isabel, I put her into nursery so that I could return to work. Financially I assumed we had no choice as I’d already dismissed self-employment and there was no way we’d be able to survive solely on Karl’s income (not helped by the fact that we were living in more expensive rented accommodation with high utility bills). Despite the cost of childcare, which was a huge part of our income back then and the ultimate reason for me going self-employed now, it seemed like the only sensible decision we could make.
Isabel is what some people call a “highly sensitive” child. I hate the term but it’s spot on, really. She has issues with noises; people (not just strangers – her own family); seams in clothes; textures of certain foods. She is very aware of the feelings of others, breaking into tears at the slightest hint of sadness in a DVD or song. She notices change; picks up on smells before anyone else can tell they’re there; is easily scared… the list goes on.
As you can probably imagine, a sensitive child doesn’t do well with being dumped in nursery for 8 hours a day. And so when we chose a nursery, we picked one with the best staff ratios, with a good staff retention rate and one where I knew that Isabel would get the one on one attention she needed when she needed it.
So when the government says oh, we’ll just increase the ratio of toddlers – crazy, rambunctious, noisy, active toddlers – to staff (1 staff member for 6 toddlers) to reduce the cost of childcare, I sit and think of my daughter in her first weeks of nursery, surrounded by 5 other children also needing one on one care and I can’t get the image out of my head of her alone, crying. Crying because it doesn’t matter how talented, how amazingly well qualified a nursery worker or childminder is, they only have 1 pair of arms. 1 lap. Less time for her, less time for the other babies and toddlers.
Isabel now has the choice over whether or not she goes to nursery (pre-school now), and her enthusiasm means I still pack her off for 3 days a week. But if I was back there, making that decision all over again knowing full well that she’d be sharing the attentions of a staff member with 5 other kids? I’d have given up employment and found a way to live off any benefits I could have claimed. And I’m guessing that’s not what Cameron wants at all.