I take it all back about Penelope Leach

I noted in a previous comment that I’d heard she’d mellowed over the years regarding her stance on childcare. But I really, really didn’t expect something quite as sensible as this from her:

One thing you can be sure of when childcare is the subject of debate is that reason goes out of the window. My heart sank last week when I saw the headlines about Unicef’s latest report on education and childcare in the developed world, all along the same lines: “British children suffering as mothers are forced back to work”. Oh, please.

Unicef’s study, carried out by the Innocenti research centre in Florence, ranked Britain joint 11th out of 25 countries – behind France, Hungary and Slovenia – for the quality of its childcare policies and provision for young children. The categories are pretty coarse. It suggested that government policy, in extending nursery care, may be running counter to “today’s knowledge of the critical development needs of very young children”.

But the science tells us surprisingly little. What matters to the development of young children is the relationship they have with their parents, primarily their mother. They need to establish a mutual core relationship with someone who gives them responsive, sensitive care, who will talk to them and encourage their development – but they don’t need to be with that person 24 hours a day.

Compared with this core relationship, childcare is relatively unimportant. That’s not to say it doesn’t matter, but it doesn’t matter as much as you may think.

Leach is protesting the alarmist tone of this UNICEF report on the state of early child care in developed countries. It’ll be interesting to see if her forthcoming book on the subject is written in a similar tone.


2 Responses

  1. Are you sure you want to take it all back. You can just take some of it back if you choose. By the way your headline made me lol.

  2. This sort of thing is happening a lot.

    That is, childcare experts in the UK recoiling from a situation they have some responsibility for creating. Esther Ranson the spokes person for Childline wrote an article this year in which she laments how teachers and caregivers in the United Kingdom are afraid to comfort children in their care lest they be accused of child abuse. It’s bad enough that not touching or touching only with gloves is mandated in some places. It’s even worse when it’s not mandated and adults are afraid anyway.

    I think things have gone a little further in the UK than in some places. Americans still hug and comfort the kids they take care of.

    But back to Penelope Leach, I’m glad she’s speaking up. I wish she’d done it a decade ago.

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