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Cherishing our crèche-children equally?

 Cherishing our crèche-children equally?David Gaffney is concerned that, more and more, parents are practically compelled to have their children spend an inordinate amount of time in crèche facilities, and that this may well have a negative impact on their development.


The only meaningful contact which many a young commuting mother has nowadays with her infant during the working-week, is when the child wakes up crying during the night (according to Archbishop Robin Eames, addressing a church gathering). And this in a country where our constitution exhorts us to cherish all of our children equally!

Over five years ago, columnist Patricia Redlich reported this conclusion of surveys: If an infant is left in a crèche for 30 hours a week or more – i.e., 6 hours a day, Monday to Friday – there is a high risk to the eventual formation of the child’s sense of identity. Courageously, she added that such a primitive-stage deprivation could cause greater long-term damage than even a later trauma of child-abuse.

I write now because a new angle has emerged in the most influential of those surveys, a survey of the NICHD. An escape-route, as it were, has appeared. Findings now say that if the mother has an already-formed emotional bonding with her child, that initial “secure attachment” is going to remain at the same level throughout crèche-care. It is going to keep the child from harm even where, before reaching 15 months, the child had been long experiencing extensive hours in “childcare”/crèche.

Commenting on how such children fared (the ones who had been firmly-bonded emotionally from the outset), my namesake Maureen Gaffney writes: “At 15 months children who had experienced extensive and early childcare (defined as more than 30 hours a week from birth) were no more likely to be insecurely attached than children with less than 10 hours a week childcare”. (Irish Times, September 17, 2005).

To my mind, all this is simply to push the whole question further back. Is the young mother supposed to instantly hypnotize herself into such a “secure attachment” bonding relationship? And if not, if that primary bonding can only be developed over time, then where is a frazzled working mother, in today’s leisure-strapped lifestyle, supposed to find all the hours that it takes to work on it?

In the last few years a consensus has been emerging that young mothers should work only part-time. And in spite of having earlier championed “secure attachment” as the universal solution to all crèche-care problems, Maureen Gaffney, in the same article, rather surprisingly weighs in behind this recent consensus.

No sooner, however, did the consensus gain ground than the banks began refusing house-mortgages to couples who were not both working full-time. And today you get that dawn-to-dusk absence of young working couples from the home. One wonders how many Irish children are now topping 40 creche-hours a week.

This “secure attachment” plea should not be used to get the State off the hook in the matter of subsidizing childcare provision, so easing budgeting and time constraints on couples. In the Europe of 2006, every other country (bar one) provides two years of State-financed childcare before schooling begins.