Richard Garner: Nurseries and day care are not the only answers

The Government's Sure Start initiative was founded on the most well-meaning of principles.

Children from disadvantaged homes were lagging behind those from more affluent homes by the time they started schooling because their parent/s did not have the resources to give them the stimulation they might get in a better-off setting.

So the answer was to provide the parents with day-care or nursery places where their children could get development help and a start to learning the basic skills which they might otherwise have missed out on.

Now comes a report from the Centre for Social Justice – headed by the former Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith – which indicates this simplistic thinking may be missing out part of the equation: that the child may get more from the one-to-one attention at home rather than separation from his or her parents at an early age. The think-tank argues that much antisocial behaviour and violence by children has its roots in that early separation from the home.

Of course, the answer would not be to just turn the clock back. The CSJ report recognises this. After all, that would just mean that those parents who were struggling to bring up their children in a disadvantaged home – sometimes on their own – would be sentenced again to doing just that. The gap in developmental skills between rich and poor children as they start compulsory schooling would therefore still be there.

One of the answers that it comes up with is to concentrate more aid on helping parents to cope in the home. This teaching of skills so that parents can better make use of play time and home time with their children is certainly an alternative, and productive, use of the nation's resources in care provision for nought to three-year-olds, if not a better one.