Call for parental leave to be extended to 18 months

Extension would be ‘best for children’

Journalist and author Victoria White tells delegates at a childcare conference that  parental leave should be extended to 18 months. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Journalist and author Victoria White tells delegates at a childcare conference that parental leave should be extended to 18 months. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

 



Journalist and author Victoria White has said parental leave should be extended to 18 months because she believed children who went to creche did not benefit enough from “one-to-one” care.

Addressing a childcare conference organised by the Iona Institute, Ms White insisted she did not have an anti-preschool agenda but believed a good parental home environment was optimal for small children. “Parents need a chance to be home for 18 months because it’s best for children,” she said.

She said there was a “huge drive” to increase the numbers of women in the workplace, while mothers raising their own children at home were undervalued. “We have not developed an economic model which recognises any economic activity for which money doesn’t transfer from one person to another.”

Childcare expert Prof Nóirín Hayes of DIT said sufficient research had been carried out to conclude that childcare did not pose a serious threat either to relationships children develop with their parents or to the children’s emotional development.

“But that comes with a caveat that the services that we’re talking about are high quality and are supportive,” she added. She warned that too heavy a reliance on the private sector could yield difficulties in relation to quality.

The “shocking” RTÉ Prime Time investigation into three creches in Dublin and Wicklow had provided space for a discussion about the area of childcare, she said. The title of the conference was After Prime Time: What type of childcare is best for children? – Is the Swedish model the one to follow? Swedish author Jonas Himmelstrand criticised the day-care system in Sweden, where he said 93 per cent of all children aged 18 months to five years were in day care.

Culturally discouraged
Mr Himmelstrand said caring for children at home was “culturally discouraged” and parents risked “being looked at with suspicion in Sweden if you’ve got a three-year-old not in day care”. Dual income households were encouraged both culturally and financially, he said.

He said parents had to be able to make their own choices, but when the State took over the care of children then childcare became just another political issue. The quality of childcare could be shifted to fit the social agenda, he said.

“It’s difficult to follow your heart because our government has strong opinions about how you should live.”