Childcare guru calls for policy re-think

POVERTY, unemployment and dehumanised living conditions do not cause childhood delinquency, but they reduce the choices, opportunities and self-respect that help prevent it, Dr Penelope Leach claimed yesterday at the launch of her new book.

Dr Leach was the childcare guru of the Seventies, whose book Baby and Child sold 2.7 million copies. Her radical approach to childcare - spare the rod and make the child - ensured her the hatred of traditional parents who say she has created a nation of child monsters.

But she has lost none of her fire, calling for a radical re-think of the whole system of childcare in Britain. Many parents, desperate to earn money to care for their children, are failing them emotionally, she says, creating a society increasingly prone to violence and personal mental breakdown.

Dr Leach calls for a cost- benefit analysis of the existing childcare provisions and an assessment of all available options. What, she asks, is the real cost to industry of paid parental leave, subsidised daycare and flexitime, after allowing for the expense of recruiting and training new staff? What are the long-term costs of taking delinquent children into care, in comparison to preventative services? What are the cost-benefits of pre-school education, libraries and youth clubs?

'The wicked thing is that we do not know. We've got to spend less money sooner, proactively, rather than huge amounts later, reactively.'

Dr Leach's views were echoed by Christopher Brown, director of the NSPCC, who said: 'We need a new vision, a fresh approach to what kind of society we want to see 20 or 30 years from now. We seem to have a society that is more concerned with money and instant gratification.'

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