Mark Sainsbury: Is sending our kids off to childcare harming their development?

Little girl sitting at the table in a preschool and coloring.
Photo credit: Istock

OPINION: A question for you, as it's school holidays have you taken time off to be with the kids? And if you didn't are you a failure as a parent? Harsh I know, but this is prompted by a call to my RadioLIVE show yesterday that got many of you going.  It was from Sharon and she worked in early child education and felt many parents were not doing the right thing by their kids.  Throwing them into early childhood education centres was abdicating their role, that the kids were missing out, especially as some were going only weeks old. 

She also had big issues about smaller housing with no sections and kids not having a proper childhood. As I said it caused a swift response from many of you, including this from Jonathan who said I'm not sure where Sharon and the previous caller live in New Zealand, but they make it sound like all children are depressed and living in squalor.

He said someone needs to remind them the world has changed and it's not all bad. Stop looking through rose-tinted glasses. 

Jonathan has two children, who were in early childcare from the age of six months.  They are now 11 and 13-years-old and very well rounded, sociable, polite kids. No problem at all.

So is it the case are we parent shaming here? Is the simple fact that many couples cannot afford to have one stay home? Despite the advantages that might present.  One caller suggested having a parent at home is more important than, say, saving for a house.  It was also suggested many parents don't look at trying to take their holidays when their kids are on holiday to share that time with them. The implication again is that those parents are selfish, or unwilling to make their kids a priority.

But our Government encourages us to use childcare, there are subsidies and even threats. Back in 2012 Paula Bennett brought in a policy that meant beneficiaries who fail to take reasonable steps to keep their children in certified early childhood care for at least 15 hours a week, from age 3 until they go to school, will have their benefits halved. 

This of course was designed to encourage beneficiaries and, let's be frank in most cases women, to go back to work. With the expectation they will work at least 20 hours a week for parents over 20.

So this raises the issue of what we value.  Research increasingly shows the first 1000 days from conception are the ones that define your entire future.  So is early childcare or early childhood education given the support and the status it deserves or is it a Cinderella industry?

And what about the guilt? Did you get the guilts putting your child into care, and at what age?

What did you have to weigh up and what about the cost? It's subsidised but does it work out to put your child in care while you work? And for some it's important to get back into work they might need it for their own mental health.  Have we lost the plot? Have we stopped being  parents and are farming out our children's upbringing, or is this bringing our kids the company and the stimulus they need and solving what is really a very practical problem?  As much as it would be great to have a parent at home is that in today's age even remotely achievable?

Mark Sainsbury is the Radio Live Morning Talk host.