|Excerpts from the Executive Summary |
September, 8 2008. Dr Samantha et. al. The Centre for Social Justice – report: “The Next Generation Report: Early Years Commission Report” (download full report PDF here)
Current Government policy for the early years does not support relationships
The past decade has brought with it a sea-change in children’s policy and services, following the publication and elaboration of the five Every Child Matters (ECM) outcomes (to be healthy; stay safe; enjoy and achieve; make a positive contribution and achieve economic well-being) around which most children’s policy is now structured. A key thread is a call for greater integration throughout service provision. Recent early years policy has focused on the wider provision of affordable, quality childcare; on standards for this childcare and on the development of a public health strategy for children ages 0-5. The Early Years Commission found that, despite current policy’s far-reaching positive implications, a ‘golden thread’ is missing: a recognition in the underpinning framework of the importance of relationships in every young child’s development.
ECONOMIC GOALS CROWD OUT THE IMPORTANCE OF NURTURE
Policy prioritises economic and academic ambitions above the essential relational needs of infants and children, so services on the ground have no imperative to provide the optimal conditions that support emotional health and prevent later dysfunction. A clear example of this lies in the widely acknowledged loss of one of the most important original goals of Sure Start, which was to help ensure that children of all backgrounds received the nurture and care from their parents which they needed to thrive. The emphasis has shifted towards helping disadvantaged parents become work-ready and enter the labour market. This has been achieved largely by making childcare provision a cornerstone offering of Children’s Centres, into which Sure Start has evolved, to the extent that the ‘nurturing’ goals seem to have been wholly subordinated to the educational and economic imperatives described above.
[from p 6]
POLICY DELIVERS LITTLE GENUINE CHOICE IN THE AREA OF CHILDCARE
Recent childcare policy, acknowledging that parents often struggle to meet families’ competing financial and nurturing needs, aims to alleviate this with greater amounts of affordable statutory childcare. This might meet the needs of parents who want to work more hours, and help children of parents who need to work to escape poverty, but without parallel policies that increase choice for those parents who want to spend more time with their children or use other forms of care, choice is only increased for some, and many people feel even more pressurised to return to work. The broader message communicated by this lopsided policy is that a child’s time with their parents is irrelevant to their well-being and healthy development. The government’s support for an increase in quality, affordable childcare is narrowly focused on the formal and subsidized state sector.
[from p7 ]
…The absence of a clear framework focusing on the relational and emotional well being of the child affects the quality of care provided. Staff are not trained in an understanding of the nature and importance of attachment, nurturing relationships and emotionally attuned responsiveness, neither are they helped in developing the skills to promote them.
Economic and academic concerns trump relational ones, despite the latter’s crucial role in child, and later adult’s, well-being. Children’s policy misses the importance of relationships and political thinking in general misses the relevance of high levels of relational stress and relational poverty in the early years as key underlying factors for a whole host of social problems we face today. As long as policy continues to marginalise relationships in the early years and marginalise the early years in other policy areas there will be no lasting improvement to the interrelated physical, emotional and social problems faced by both children and adults in our society.
ON THE SUBJECT OF CHILDCARE
88 per cent of parents and 82 per cent of adults thought that more should be done to help parents who wish to stay at home and bring up their children in the early years (this was consistent across socioeconomic groups ABC1 and C2DE). 97 per cent agree that the Government should do more in this area
67 per cent of parents and nearly 70 per cent of adults agreed that parents are encouraged to put their children into daycare and return to work too early
On the basis of the themes emerging from this analysis, recommendations are made which: are concerned with the promotion of emotionally healthy relationships; are family-centred, not just ‘child-centred’; treat all family relationships as important (and do not leave out the role of fathers); enable people and build on assets of individuals and communities (instead of making people dependent on professionals); are universal and specific according to whichever is most appropriate; emphasise that an early years focus must not disadvantage the later years; are preventative
Kids First Commentary—September 2008
The “Break Through Britain: The Next Generation” report is a major step in the right direction. It emphasizes the evidence from developmental science that shows that care during the “early years” lays down the foundations—for better or for worse—for a person’s emotional well-being, health, and intellectual development. The importance of attachment and relationships is referred to constantly. Government is criticized for prioritizing narrow economic and educational goals to the detriment of relational needs of parents and children. Polls asking clear meaningful questions of parents and non-parents are also an important feature—one not found in similar reports in Canada.
Though the developmental psychology and neuroscience behind the report is extensive, the references to “evidence”—often very shaky and highly disputed evidence—from the RAND Corporation, James Heckman, and Canada’s Fraser Mustard is ironic. It almost seems that the Brits are thumbing their noses at these former colonials with elegant backhanded complements in the English style. These other reports stress the importance of the “early years” also, but instead of emphasizing attachment and the importance of relationships to parents, they twist their own logic to conclude that we need daycare and/or preschool for all children.
For example the report cites the US military-corporate based RAND Corporation’s “finding” that up to $17 long term social costs are saved for each $1 spent by good early intervention programs. This is derived from the infamous, mis-named Perry Preschool Project conducted in 1962 on a few dozen Afro-American 3-4 year olds with low IQ and very low socio-economic scores. The program intensely involved their “stay-at-home” welfare mums (who would now be in “workfare” with daycare for the kids).
The policy recommendations of these two schools of thought are similar but with the very large difference that the British report insists on greater funding going directly to parents and rejects favouring daycare centres as the best way to care for young children. Most importantly it rejects the core unstated premise of the RAND/World Bank/Heckman types that “jobs are us.” When non-parental care is preferred/used, relatives and home-care forms are said to be better at creating strong attachment relationships.
RAND, Mustard, Heckman, the World Bank and Canada’s daycare/early schooling lobby are stuck in the past promoting labour force attachment rather than parent-child attachment as an unquestionable benefit, disregarding the science and most parents’ preference for parental child care. They promote massive public funding for daycare/preschool in the name of helping children and mothers, when the reality—as these corporate-sponsored bodies clearly know—is that this approach is a form of corporate welfare, subsidizing low wage McJobs for mums rather than subsidizing parents themselves.
On the other hand, the “Next Generation” report’s stress on “intervention” and “integration” of all services causes concern. The recommendation that family service “hubs” be created in all communities—as World Bank-backed Mustard also seeks for Canada—staffed with medical and psychological experts and universal home visiting sounds like very expensive and excessive state intervention. Worse, it again puts child-related money and power in the hands of non-parents.
In addition to properly financing parents, simply having all-ages space for parents, grandparents and children in existing community centres, and a website with all related services linked (as the report recommends) would perhaps be more empowering for parents than empowering an army of interventionists. Re-establishing restrictions on advertising targeting children could also help. A low-cost public information campaign—simple posters and billboards—about the importance of parent-child attachment and breastfeeding would perhaps also be very welcome.