I am so concerned about the shortage of staff at the kindergarten that I have delayed sending my son

cat and her son

My son is almost 15 months old and still at home with me (Image: Catherine Hufton)

It feels like yesterday when I dropped my oldest son off for his first day of kindergarten in 2019 and tears streamed down his face as I handed him over to a relative stranger.

I needed a dedicated few days to become a freelance writer, so I decided to put my trust in the local nursery. I found it more worrying than I thought when we began the adjustment period, but I had faith that England’s current child relations laws and protection protocols would ensure he was adequately cared for.

The law currently stipulates that in England, no one nursery teacher can look after more than four two-year-olds and a single childminder can look after no more than three children under the age of five. In addition, depending on the employee’s qualifications, they should not look after more than three children under the age of two.

For context, ratios ensure that children in kindergartens or childcare facilities receive quality care and that their safety is not compromised. This is also likely to reduce the risk of accidents while ensuring children receive the one-to-one attention they need to develop and that their emotional needs are met.

Fast forward to today, however, and these protective parameters are being threatened by the Conservative government’s proposals to reduce the professional-to-child ratio in early childhood settings. Led by people like former Children’s Minister Will Quince, these plans aim to increase the childcare ratio for two-year-olds from 1:4 to 1:5.

This news came just weeks before my one-year-old son was due to follow in his brother’s footsteps at the same kindergarten. I was concerned that those pillars of security I had relied on for reassurance were under threat.

During my eldest son’s three years at the crèche, I saw first-hand how much is asked of the staff, how busy it is and how important it is to look after the children consistently.

What also worried me was the nursery’s reliance on bank employees to be called when a regular keyworker was sick or had left. Although usually caring and kind, they never had the opportunity to develop an emotional bond with the children, which often resulted in inconsistent caring.

My own son often found this unsettling, but unfortunately it became more common as staff moved into higher paying jobs and became private nannies or teachers where they felt more valued.

Small children play with colorful wooden building blocks on the table

I tried to look at this critical situation from a less emotional and more economic point of view (Image: Getty Images)

I asked some of the nursery staff what they thought of a possible change in installment numbers and if they thought it would help. Neither of them thought it was a good idea, and my son’s key worker said it would put more pressure on her and have a negative impact on the children in her care.

A small part of me also hoped that with Boris Johnson gone, a new leader would have had a change of heart. But when former Prime Minister Liz Truss took over and, instead of simply changing the rules on ratios, considered scrapping them altogether, I was speechless.

This would allow day-care centers to freely decide how many employees they need to look after their children.

My son is almost 15 months old and still at my house. He was due to start kindergarten in January 2023 but with the future of kindergartens still so uncertain I have now found a local childminder instead. She can’t take him as many lessons as in the nursery, but I feel better about it as an option at the moment.

She only accepts a few children at a time and has assured me that it will remain so no matter what decision our government makes. It’s also less expensive, costing around £60 a day, rather than the nursery’s standard £98 daily rate. However, as my son gets older I will need more hours of care, so we are postponing our current daycare place rather than eliminating it altogether.

I have tried to look at this critical situation from a less emotional and more economic point of view – and that is certainly the origin of cold-hearted politicians like Liz Truss. But if the research suggests that changing the ratios wouldn’t make childcare more affordable, even that doesn’t make sense.

Meanwhile, an official government e-petition opposing the relaxation of staff-child ratios in early childhood settings in England has garnered over 100,000 signatures.

To bring the matter home clearly, this petition was created by parents Zoe and Lewis Steeper, whose son Oliver died after choking on food at a daycare center.

Seeing how many parents had signed this petition reassured me that I wasn’t alone in my fears, but also incredibly sad for Zoe and Lewis. Choking is one of the biggest fears of many parents, including my own and many of my friends, so I can only imagine the pain it caused them. Her story shows how quickly babies and small children can have accidents and how important constant, high-quality care is.

Raising a future generation shouldn’t be that difficult, and protecting our children from a ruthless government willing to tamper with their safety shouldn’t even be a factor.

But unfortunately, Rishi Sunak seems determined to turn things around. Speaking before Parliament, he said with a big smile that he was pleased to announce “ambitious new plans to improve the cost, choice and availability of childcare”.

His plans, which he believes will benefit hundreds of thousands of parents across the country, will include measures to increase the number of children each daycare worker can care for. Getting started as a childminder will also be easier.

His words left a pit in my stomach. Recently the petition prepared by Oliver Steeper’s parents was discussed in Parliament and I hoped that the parents’ and nursery staff’s feelings would finally be heard.

Sadly, Oliver’s parents said: “We are disappointed with the government’s non-binding response and now eagerly await the publication of the results of the quota consultation.

“It is clear that the Government has yet to produce credible evidence that changing childcare rates would be safe and beneficial for the development and well-being of children in England.”

They also expressed dismay at the government’s refusal to “consider the mental health of the workforce when it proposed changing the ratio to 1:5 for over-twos”.

Endangering children as an austerity measure should not be accepted by anyone, least of all by our Prime Minister. As Zoe and Lewis Steeper put it, “The quality of care, education and well-being of children must be paramount.”

Do you have a story you would like to share? Contact us by email at jess.austin@metro.co.uk.

Share your views in the comments below.

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https://metro.co.uk/2022/11/30/im-so-worried-about-nursery-staffing-levels-that-ive-delayed-sending-my-son-17767715/ I am so concerned about the shortage of staff at the kindergarten that I have delayed sending my son

Justin Scacco

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