Do they really care?
With more parents opting to keep their children
at Day Care centres, Ayesha Inoon looks at the pros and cons
A little boy sits alone at a table, listlessly
picking at his food. He is still in his school uniform. A toddler
has crawled into a playhouse and fallen asleep on the floor. A small
girl wails for her mother. No one notices. The other children are
asleep, curled up on quilts on the floors of the rooms. Inside there
is a clatter, as a tray of milk bottles is being prepared, each
numbered and labelled, for when they wake up.
These are the children of day care, children for
whom the day care centre is a substitute for home most of their
day. Some come to the centre right after school; the younger ones
arrive in the morning. There are a small number of babies, just
a few months old. The children follow a daily routine at the day
care centre which includes lunch, a nap, a wash and some playtime
or other activities.
|Cane corner: Some centres use physical punishment
The past few years have seen the number of day
care centres around the country rapidly increasing. With many mothers
choosing to continue with their careers after having their babies,
more and more parents are looking for day care centres to care for
their children while they are at work.
For most, the decision to leave their child in
day care is not an easy one to make. “My mother is old, she
can’t look after my youngest son, who can be very naughty,”
says Roshan* whose four-year-old is at a day care
centre. He adds that they need the salary of his wife, a lawyer,
to maintain their current lifestyle as well as to save for their
children’s future. To stay at home with the children is not
an option for her. Due to these reasons, they have to make this
present sacrifice, he says.
Similarly, other parents too say that they need
the salaries of both spouses to make ends meet. For many single
parents, they have no other choice. When grandparents or other relatives
are either elderly or living too far away - when parents cannot
afford a live-in nanny - the only alternative for them is day care.
|Play corner at another centre
However, are these day care centres really equipped
to take over the raising of young children, particularly those in
the first few years of their lives? Can they substitute for the
one-on-one love and attention a child would receive at home from
one dedicated care-giver?
“A good day care centre, conducted by professionals,
can offer a child many advantages,” says Childcare Consultant,
Geetha Kaduwela. If there are carefully planned activities, suited
to the child’s interest and abilities, it nurtures a child’s
development and confidence. The opportunity to interact with other
children, which he may not have at home, teaches co-operation as
well, she says.
While experts agree that high quality day care
can be beneficial in many ways, it is doubtful if this is what is
being provided in many day care centres.
At most of the day care centres visited by The
Sunday Times the care of children was given over to domestics. At
some of the more expensive centres, the only qualification required
for a caregiver was to be ‘English-speaking’. No qualifications
in child management or child psychology were necessary.
The caregiver: child ratio was often high, with
one caregiver being responsible for ten children or more. Older
and younger children were not separated, increasing the risk of
infections as well as accidents. At one centre, the lady in charge
admitted to occasionally using physical punishment, saying that
it was sometimes ‘the only way to control the boys.’
“Poor quality day care can have a negative
impact on a child’s development and personality, particularly
within the first three years of life,” says psychologist,
Sameeha Jalaldeen. Children who are exposed to this kind of environment
during their early years can tend to become particularly aggressive,
depressed and antisocial later on.
“Children need security and strong emotional attachments,
whether it is from their parents or from another devoted person,”
she says, pointing out that in a day care setting where one caregiver
is responsible for a large number of children, it is hardly possible
to create this kind of bond. This can cause feelings of insecurity
in children which may lead to chronic anger and poor impulse control
afterward. The lack of strong, secure relationships in childhood
can also make them unable to form meaningful, intimate relationships
Also, every parent knows that hugs and cuddles
are an important part of raising a young child. At many day care
centres, caregivers are restricted from hugging the children, or
even carrying the young babies. “We don’t want them
to get used to it, then they may want to be carried all the time,”
said one Directress of a Day Care Centre, “We don’t
want to pet or spoil them.” Strict discipline is often enforced
to keep the children under control.
However, studies have shown that children who
are often held and cuddled during the early years are more likely
to grow into happy and stable adults. “Affection is particularly
important in the crucial first years of life,” says Ms. Jalaldeen,
adding that toddlers in particular need such comfort during tantrums
as they still haven’t mastered how to cope with their temper
by themselves. “Infants and toddlers who receive regular physical
contact show a sense of emotional well-being in addition to being
better socially and intellectually adapted than their counterparts
who are affection-deprived.”
The absence of a close continuous relationship
with a caring mother or surrogate spells doom for the psychological
well-being of the infant, says Ms. Jalaldeen. Mother-child bonding
is a necessary step towards developing a sense of trust in others,
self confidence and a sense of right and wrong. If a mother or other
close relative is unable to care for the child during the first
years and day care is the only alternative, she says, it should
be very high quality day care, where one caregiver has just a few
students under her charge and therefore such close bonds may be
In such an atmosphere on the other hand, children
can and do thrive. “The children really enjoy themselves at
our day care,” says the Directress of a day care centre in
a leading school. Here, they follow a structured routine, which
allows for a bath, nap, movies and music. In the evenings a teacher
does handwork, colouring or painting with the children. Since there
are fewer children, only those from the school, it allows the caregivers
to give more attention to each child, she says.
However, she also adds that there is a marked
difference between the children who leave earlier in the day, before
3 p.m. and the children who stay on till 6 p.m. The ones who stay
on till later tend to be more irritable and stubborn, she says,
advising parents to pick up their children as early as possible,
and if the mother is able to, to work part-time during the first
years, so that the child is given her undivided attention for at
least part of the day.
A good day care centre is more than merely a service
that lets parents go to work. More importantly, parents are choosing
a whole world for their child, a world that affects the child's
physical, intellectual, emotional and social development.
“The first five years are the most important
in the life of a child,” says Mrs. Kaduwela. The experiences
during this stage of life play a significant role in the long-term
process of development and personality as an adult. The responsibility
of caring for a child during this stage is not to be taken lightly
and parents should think carefully before delegating this responsibility
to someone else, she adds.
* Name has been changed
a day care centre
Most parents would like
to know that their children are somewhere safe, happy and
healthy while they are at work. At present, day care centres
in Sri Lanka are registered as business organisations, and
require no particular licence unlike in the West, where state
agencies regulate the founding and running of these institutions.
However, there are several factors that parents can consider
before choosing a day care centre for their child.
- Qualified caregivers – There are several institutes
which offer courses in Childcare Management, Child Psychology
and Early Childhood or Pre-school Education. Find out if
the main caregivers at the day care centre hold any of these
qualifications, as well as how experienced they are.
- Child to staff ratio – The fewer children each
staff member is responsible for, the better. The American
Academy of Pediatrics recommends a ratio of one staff person
for 3 to 5 small children and one staff member for 7 to
10 older children.
- Safety - Play equipment should be clean and in good repair.
The toys should be age-appropriate. Electrical outlets should
be covered with safety caps. There should be safety gates
where there are very small children. There should be a plan
for contacting parents in case of emergency.
- Hygiene – Rules for washing hands before eating
and after toilet use must be followed by children as well
as caregivers. Milk bottles and other utensils should be
sterilised daily. Toilets as well as all other surfaces
should be cleaned with disinfectant every day.
- A complete schedule of activities - Good centres will
have a schedule that allows for play time, quiet time, individual
activities, meals, snacks, and group activities.
- The centre’s policies for discipline – What
sort of methods do they use? How would they handle a tantrum
from a young child? Do they resort to physical punishment?
- Sick children – Children with infectious diseases
must not be allowed to come to the centre until they are
better. Even otherwise, sick children must be separated
from the others, perhaps in a sick-room. Ideally, the day
care centre should have a record of health-related problems,
such as allergies, illnesses, and injuries for each child.
It is best to visit several day care centres before making
the final choice. Cost is not always indicative of the quality
of day care.