Most UK toddlers 'cared for out of home'
Majority of mothers go back to work within year of giving birth, Unicef says
A childcare revolution has meant the majority of toddlers in the UK are for the first time cared for outside the home before they reach the age of one, according to a major international study published today.
The report, by the children's charity Unicef, concludes: "The care of very young children is now becoming, in significant degree, an out-of-home activity in which governments and private enterprise are increasingly involved. In the United Kingdom, for example, a majority of mothers are now returning to full or part-time work within 12 months of giving birth."
As a result, children from poor homes are likely to face a "double disadvantage" – their parents unable to afford quality childcare or resist the economic pressures to seek work so soon after their child is born.
The report, The Childcare Transition, warns that children need the attention of a caring adult more in their first year than at any other time of their life if they are to develop communication skills. "Neuroscientific research is demonstrating that loving, stable, secure and stimulating relationships with caregivers in the earliest months are critical for every aspect of a child's development," it adds.
It also warns that poor childcare could increase the gap in performance between the haves and have-nots in later life. "In the absence of specific and large-scale action to give special emphasis to high-quality early childhood services for at-risk children, 'double disadvantage' is likely to become the norm and the childcare transition will become a new and potent source of inequality. If this is allowed to happen, a historic opportunity will be lost."
The UK is almost alone in switching from early childhood education to compulsory schooling by the age of five, the report goes on to note, arguing that earlier "schoolification" does not appear to benefit British children. "Finland and Sweden, for instance, despite rejecting the 'schoolification' of the early years and delaying the beginning of primary school education until the age of seven, regularly top international league tables for academic achievement at age 15," it adds.
"Finnish 15-year-olds outperform the students of every other industrialised country in average levels of proficiency in maths and science and are outperformed in literacy only by pupils in the Republic of Korea."
The UK is near the bottom of 24 countries in the OECD for infant mortality, coming 20th out of 24, with a death rate of 5.1 per 1,000 births. It is 20th for babies with low birth weight, with 7.5 per cent below 2,500 grams (5lb 8oz), and 23rd out of 24 for immunisation coverage.
Annette Brooke, the Liberal Democrat children's spokeswoman, said: "The poorest families are still not able to access high quality childcare. Sub-standard provision can hinder a child's development and standards must be dramatically improved."
Maria Miller, for the Conservatives, added: "Urgent action is needed to ensure the poorest families access high-quality pre-school services so the cycle can finally be beaten."
However, the Government disputed Unicef's findings, saying latest figures showed that only 18 per cent of children under one used formal childcare, while 24 per cent used informal childcare, mostly by grandparents.
Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes
Ian Thorpe gay: Olympic swimmer comes out in Parkinson interview
Stephen Fry ‘criticises Operation Yewtree in dinner party rant’ calling for tougher laws to deter false sex abuse allegations
Israel-Gaza conflict: ‘Sderot cinema’ image shows Israelis with popcorn and chairs 'cheering as missiles strike Palestinian targets'
Israel-Gaza conflict: Israeli air strike destroys home for the disabled killing two women residents
Israel-Gaza conflict: Israeli PM says conflict may 'continue for a long time' as hundreds of Palestinians flee their homes
Sustained immigration has not harmed Britons' employment, say government advisers
War is war: Why I stand with Israel
7/7 memorial defaced on anniversary of 2005 attacks with ‘Blair lied thousands died’ graffiti
Australia facing international condemnation after turning around Sri Lankans at sea
Even when it brutalises one of its own teenage citizens, America is helpless against Israel
Socialist Worker called to apologise over ‘vile’ article saying Eton schoolboy Horatio Chapple's death is ‘reason to save the polar bears’
- 2 Why I'm on the brink of burning my Israeli passport
- 4 War is war: Why I stand with Israel
- 5 Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
£33000 per annum + pension, 25 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A highly successfu...
Competitive Salary: Randstad Education Group: Randstad urgently seeks a qualif...
Negotiable: Randstad Education Liverpool: We are looking for someone who can t...
£120 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: **Science Teacher Urgently ...