Day-Care Can Work While Mummy Does; OFFICE STYLE Today Two-Thirds of Mothers Are Working Mums. Are Children Suffering as a Result? Jo Ind Investigates

Article excerpt

It is the six-million dollar question that any mother who has left her crying toddler with the child minder has asked: "Does my going out to work harm my little girl or boy?"

It is a question which is loaded with political implications in the arena of sexual roles.

If it is true that non-maternal childcare has an adverse effect on youngsters then we must conclude that a woman's place is in the home, or at least a mother's place is.

That, in turn, means that employers are justified in not wanting to employ or promote women who are likely to have children and, as most women do have children, it is only right and fair that most of the top jobs should go to men.

If non-maternal childcare is bad for kids, it means the Government could use pounds 300million more productively than by spending it on the creation of 30,000 after-school clubs.

It means its a national childcare strategy, which is due to be announced in April, is actually harmful rather than merely a waste to resources and time.

So what do the scientists say? Does it do children any harm or any good when they are cared for by people other than their mothers?

The Thomas Coram Research Unit, founded in 1973, has published Research and Policy in Early Childhood Services: Time for a New Agenda , which is a review of 200 studies on the effect on children of working mothers. The Unit is a wing of the Institute of Education and is funded by the Department of Health.

Tony Munton, co-author of the review, said: "We concluded that it makes no difference to a child's development whether the child is looked after by the mother or has good quality non-maternal care.

"We reject the idea that the development of young children is harmed by separation from their mothers.

"Children do need to develop close relationships, but these do not have to be exclusively with their mothers.

"While family life remains the single most important influence on young children's development, good quality care does not harm children and it can have significant and positive benefits."

Ian Roberts, director of the Child Health Monitoring Unit at the Institute of Child Health, said: "There isn't a scrap of evidence that putting children in day care while their mothers go out to work is bad for their health and education.

"On the contrary, the evidence from welonducted and controlled trials suggests that it's very good for children."

Research by the Institute found in eight different studies that IQs actually increased in children who attended day-care centres and the early gains helped to prevent later failure at school.

However Patricia Morgan, sociologist and senior research fellow on the family at the Institute of Economic Affairs Health and Welfare Unit, and author of a paper entitled Evaluating the Effects on Children of Mothers' Employment disagrees.

"A long sequence of welonducted studies shows how infants from all classes and family backgrounds are significantly more likely to have insecure and disturbed relationships with their parents where there is extensive non-maternal care," she says.

"Difficult behaviour was associated with maternal employment at any time in the first year of life and grew with the number of hours the mother worked."

One of the concepts used in assessing the weleing of a child is "securely-attached" as opposed to "insecurely-attached," to his or her mother. …