Saturday, June 15, 2024
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Laura Perrins: Empty nests. Our children flee the home far too young


As we reported last week and was covered by the Sunday Times thousands of young children are missing from their homes because they are spending too long in school. In the same week it was confirmed that families with a full time carer are the only group in Britain shouldering a heavier tax burden than the international average.

Mary Bousted general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers Union has expressed concern that young children are being deprived of their “birthright” of spending time with their mothers and families.

Ms Bousted states,  “Childhood is being eroded…I think it is essential that children have time with their parents that is relaxed and where they can have a good time together. Children need a work-life balance and they need to know their parents.”

This comes in the face of repeated calls for young children to spend longer and longer hours in formal childcare, including school. But it is not just the proposal to put two year olds in school that is causing concern. The reality is that thousands of children are spending very long days away from the home by attending breakfast and after school clubs from as early as 7:30 am up to 6pm. Ms Bousted says, “the result is that the children see their exhausted and stressed parents for an hour or two in the evenings and even less in the mornings.”

Time spent in these ‘clubs’ by children is time away from their home and families. The Union is concerned that because of this children are being robbed of their childhood. “Reading, going to the park, making cakes: these are a child’s birthright.”

The erosion of childhood is not just sentimental tosh. It is depriving children of time with their families and important learning experiences.

So, instead of lamenting mothers ‘missing from the workforce’ we should be questioning why so many children are missing from their homes and families. Why are they missing from their community playgrounds and libraries? Why they are being deprived of time spent with extended family and friends?

We should be asking why is it next to impossible for the average British family to survive on one income, or even on one and half incomes (Dad working full time and Mum working part time – a preferred working pattern).

We should be questioning the change from informal childcare to formal childcare, and we should be looking for solutions that would allow more parents to care for their children at home. The first step must be to increase and widen the transferrable tax allowance to reduce the unfairness against full time mothers and also to help more mothers who want to spend more time at home, to do so. But changing culture so that caring for children at home is valued must be a priority also.

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