Mother to appeal over prison term: Charity attacks sentence on woman who left two-year-old at home during the day

THE MOTHER jailed for six months for leaving her two-year-old daughter alone at home while she went out to work is to appeal against the sentence.

Her legal moves came amid growing controversy over the sentence imposed by Judge Michael Harrison at Warwick Crown Court on Monday.

The Daycare Trust, a leading child care charity, yesterday criticised the judge and said the child, now living with her grandmother, would suffer from being parted from her mother.

But Virginia Bottomley, Secretary of State for Health, said: 'The courts were right to deal firmly with the mother . . . there can be no possible justification for such an act.'

Helen Evans, spokeswoman for the Daycare Trust, said a probation order or suspended prison sentence would have been fairer to the child, who now faced further trauma.

The mother said she left the child unattended during the day because 'it was a choice between food and clothes and a childminder'.

The mother, aged 23, who lived in a bedsit in Essex before being offered a job with her uncle's travel agency in Stratford-upon-Avon, first paid pounds 50 a week for her daughter to be minded at a farm. The wage of the childminder accounted for half of her pounds 100 take- home pay.

The child developed asthma and had to be taken away from the farm. Unable to afford another childminder, the mother chose to leave her child at home - with a drink, toys and the television on.

Ms Evans said the case was not an isolated one. 'It is fairly common for women to leave children at home if arrangements for their care fall down. Not all employees are sympathetic to the presence of sick or wandering children in the workplace.'

Mrs Bottomley said yesterday that child care facilities in Britain were meeting the needs of women who wanted to work.

'Overall, the number of places in registered day nurseries has doubled since 1989,' she said.

A spokeswoman for the National Council for One Parent Families said any increase in nursery school places was confined to the private sector. The facilities Mrs Bottomley spoke of were not a viable option for a single parent on a low income.

The weekly income of the mother would have amounted to pounds 147.60: pounds 100 take-home pay, pounds 31.55 family credit, pounds 10 child benefit, pounds 6.05 one parent benefit. Of this, rent would account for pounds 28 and council tax for pounds 9. The remaining pounds 110.60 would have been taken up with house bills, food, clothes, repairs and transport.

A spokeswoman for Warwickshire County Council said a private nursery might have been an option - at a cost of pounds 90 a week. The alternative option would be to employ a childminder: salaries started at pounds 50 a week.

Across the country, free nursery school places are available for three to five-year-olds but queues are long, most places are part-time and nurseries can only cater for 20 per cent of the under-fives population.

For working parents who are not assigned a place, 20 per cent rely on friends and family for child care, 9 per cent employ childminders and 14 per cent look to the private sector.

Scandinavia is cited as having the most advanced child care. In Finland and Sweden, cash and nurseries are provided to encourage lone and married mothers to return to work once their children are over 18 months. Child care is designed to be affordable and flexible, and lone mothers are given priority.

Free care is provided in the United States for the children of single parents on welfare who take part in job training programmes. For wealthier parents who wish to put their children in private child care, there are tax deductions.

Britain's record on publicly funded day care places for under-threes is the worst in Europe, along with Ireland and Portugal: less than 1 per cent of Britain's under-threes are in publicly funded day care.

(Graph omitted)

Letters, page 19

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