Jane Devine: Governments need to stop jumping on childcare bandwagons

David Cameron. Picture: Neil Hanna
David Cameron. Picture: Neil Hanna
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WHAT’S the difference between David Cameron and Gina Ford? At the moment, not a lot.

One encourages new mums to establish a military-style routine in the first few weeks of their baby’s life. The other, the Prime Minister, tries to present the image of a caring, sharing, hands-on dad, developing policies that will help parents to raise their kids. Both seem hellbent on telling parents how to bring up their children and on peddling the myth that there is a “right” way to do it.

For those of us who have children, and managed to bring them up not too badly, without the aid of Gina Ford, the real difference is perhaps, just that: you can opt in and out of parenting advice, but when government gets involved, it is unavoidable, pretty annoying and often doesn’t work.

Most government policy on child care is universally applied, so it affects everyone whether or not everyone needs it. And, while of course there are people who struggle and need help with parenting, and sadly there are families where state intervention is required in order to keep children safe, that isn’t most of us.

Most of us persevere as best we can, aiming for “good enough” parenting, as opposed to “perfect parenting” and most of us get on okay. Yet, time and time again, we are all subject to the latest “thinking” on bringing up baby; and when something is applied to everyone, someone always loses out.

Just take the latest announcement on childcare from the coalition government in Westminster (which thankfully doesn’t apply in Scotland). This policy is meant to help parents get affordable childcare, but the method isn’t to give parents childcare vouchers or tax breaks or increase government subsidies.

No, it is in fact to increase the ratio of children to carers. And it is laughable. Whoever thinks that it is manageable to care for six two-year-olds at the same time, never mind do anything meaningful with them, is quite removed from reality.

In fact it would be a demonstration of bad parenting that any mother, father or carer would leave a child in a situation like that.

Thankfully a number of big childcare providers have said that they won’t implement the new ratios in their nurseries, but childcare is a booming market and within markets there is competition. Very quickly we will see a situation where the people with least money will have to put their kids into childcare establishments with the highest child to carer ratios.

And so we arrive at another mess, created by the nanny state.

It seems to me that governments should step back a little, appreciate that parenting is tricky, but that parents do usually know what is best for their own children and realise, that whatever golden age of parenting they are trying to re-create, it was probably one where government interfered the least.