I have started asking early childhood teachers one question, and I let them know that their answers are for themselves alone. The question? In your heart of hearts do you believe babies should be in care? Even though I specifically state that their answers are theirs alone, to date they have ignored that directive, and to a person they have answered out loud, "No, babies should not be in care". And that is from the people whose job it is to care for the infants and toddlers.
While we weren't looking, the shape of childhood and family has changed, almost overnight. The reasons for the seismic changes are economic and ideological; they have little or nothing to do with the welfare of individual children or their families. Or education for that matter, despite the stories we tell ourselves so that we'll feel better. There isn't one baby who would choose to be in care, we have made that choice for them - and having made a choice that runs counter to their biological needs and longings, we had better 'know what we are doing'. And with few exceptions, we don't know what we are doing. There are valid reasons for this sad state of affairs.
It doesn't help...
We do not have a history of illumined group care for the under threes in this country (NZ), so we have been faced with two choices:
- go and find out who does have a record of exemplary group care for the under-threes, and learn from them,
- or make it up as we go along by 'bleeding down' the 3 to 5 curriculum/school curriculum.
As a result things (most often) get off on the wrong foot right from the baby's first day in care because staff and management haven't had the training around the very specific needs and requirements of all three parties (child, parent, caregiver) when a baby is taken into care.
Take the quiz: Meerkat Alert in the Nursery
Along with a small number of other New Zealanders, I have learned a lot from the people at the Emmi Pikler Institute, Budapest, Hungary about the needs of infants in group care. They had 63 years of exemplary practice in their residential nursery, and now they continue their work in the day-care setting. They have much to teach us about that tender, crucial period when the child first goes into care. Take the quiz of 20 questions, and see how your centre measures up - or if you are a parent, check out any prospective centre against their settling policy. Measure their settling policy (they should be able to give you a copy) up against the quiz. If it measures up well, you know you have found a place that understands the importance of the Transfer of Trust. If it doesn't, keep looking.
Click here for the Meerkat Quiz