Oliver James: Children need love, not warehousing

It now looks almost certain that 90-95 per cent of differences in our psychology are not caused by genes

Share
Related Topics

Despite pledging to protect funding for the popular Sure Start programme for pre-school children, David Cameron is, to the anger of many parents, slashing it. He should be pouring far more money in – but only after radically changing what Sure Start is.

The initiative was originally intended to emulate an American scheme called Headstart. Massive resources were thrown at helping low-income US parents relate better to their children (parenting skills, psychological help, support to reduce isolation) and when they were over three, providing cognitively-enriching environments. Evaluated 30 years later, for every dollar spent, seven had been saved down the line. Better education results meant higher levels of employment, reduced criminality and less substance abuse.

Norman Glaser, Sure Start's first director, intended to repeat the formula in Britain. Within two years he had resigned, because the Government refused to let him. Instead, the shiny new children's centres were increasingly given over to providing group daycare so that low-income mothers of under-threes could work. Never mind that these jobs were low paid and often part-time. Initially, there was a problem of low take-up. Filling the gap, some middle class mothers – never the group targeted by Sure Start – were very happy to avail themselves of this subsidised facility.

While daycare is not proven to be harmful for all children, there is strong evidence that it is less good for under-threes than one-on-one care. Aged four and a half, a child who has been in daycare for more than 45 hours a week when under three, is six times more likely to be aggressive and disobedient than one cared for at home exclusively by one parent. Unsurpisingly, when the evaluation of Sure Start was published, it was shown not to have worked – in fact, children from the most disadvantaged homes actually did worse than those with no intervention. It is true that not all Sure Start provision is daycare (perhaps two thirds of the budget goes on daycare). And undoubtedly some excellent attempts have been made to do more than warehousing. If only they had stuck to the original idea which was to help parents meet the needs of their children.

Twenty years ago for an article in this newspaper, I asked the right wing scientist Richard Herrnstein a question. If 10,000 children from low-income homes were swapped at birth with ones from rich homes, when they grew up, would there be greater criminality among the originally low income ones? He was emphatic that genes meant there would be, largely because of inherited low intelligence.

It now looks almost certain that he was wrong and that 90-95 per cent of differences in our psychology are not caused by genes. The case then, for early intervention has never been stronger. But insofar as that entails substitute care, it should be a national network of nannies, not daycare. I would retort to those who object on cost grounds that Gordon Brown famously told us he would "do whatever it takes" to save the banks. How about doing "whatever it takes" to create a mentally healthy population?

Few if any of the New Labour luminaries used daycare for their children – only nannies were good enough. It's the same for the Cameroons. If he is serious about general well-being, the Prime Minister should transform Sure Start into a parent-support programme, including a national nanny service. Under-threes need the undivided attention of a loving adult, responsive to their needs. Where substitute care is used, most parents would prefer a blood relative. But failing that, nannies are the most likely to meet small children's needs.

Oliver James' book for parents of under-threes, How Not To F*** Them Up, is out in paperback.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Solicitor - Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: EXETER - A great new opportunity with real pot...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Private Client Solicitor - Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: EXETER - An outstanding senior opportunity for...

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: When is a baroness not a baroness? Titles still cause confusion

Guy Keleny
 

CPAC 2015: What I learnt from the US — and what the US could learn from Ukip

Nigel Farage
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower