Gina Davidson: our little ones must come first

Happy Days is planning on opening until 10pm. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

Happy Days is planning on opening until 10pm. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

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NURSERIES always have wonderfully evocative names. Bright Horizons, Busy Bees, Strawberry Hill, Wee Gems, Happy Days . . . names to make stressed-out, guilt-ridden parents believe they are leaving their children in places where their days are filled with sunshine and rainbows, where crying rarely happens and nap times begin and end with beatific smiles on their cherubic pink-cheeked faces.

The reality is very different, but nurseries are a vital part of society’s childcare package. Few people can afford nannies, childminders are restricted in the numbers of kids they can look after at the one time, few families are able to help out, so nurseries are the only option. They are there from 8am till 6pm, giving the nine-to-fivers a safe and secure place to leave their tots.

But there can be few parents who don’t almost burst a blood vessel finishing work at 5pm and attempting to pick up their kids before 6pm after which time the punishing fines of £10 for every ten minutes late kick in.

To combat the problem some parents have with the 6pm curfew, and to offer a wider service to those who work late or maybe irregular shifts, Happy Days in Dalkeith is going to open till 10pm. It will cost £10 an hour after 6pm, compared with the £5.50 per hour during the day. But I guess that’s for paying staff unsociable hour rates rather than skimming even more from hard-working parents (nurseries can be a gold mine for their owners, a money-pit for parents, but that’s a discussion for another day).

It probably won’t be long before nurseries in Edinburgh and the Lothians offer 24/7 care in the way some in London already do.

It seems like a great idea, a nursery meeting the demands of clients who need childcare at night because they work shifts, or maybe even two or three jobs with irregular hours. But is it really doing that? Is it not in fact meeting the demands of other employers and is neither good for parents or kids?

It was revealed earlier this month that, on average, working parents spend just three-and-a-half hours a day with their children and at least one partner in 75 per cent of families on low to middle incomes and 91 per cent on high incomes works outside the hours of 8am-6pm. The UK also has the highest proportion of night workers in the EU. So it’s unsurprising there’s a huge demand for out-of-hours childcare.

But parents who leave their children in nursery for 12 hours a day or longer must know they they are missing out. First words, first steps are being recorded by nursery staff rather than them. Meanwhile kids going to sleep in nursery could well end up anxious and stressed themselves given that mum or dad are nowhere to be seen if a bad dream occurs.

Nurseries can suffer from a high staff turnover – how can children bond with someone and feel reassured they are there for them through the night? Who knows what the long-term impact could be?

It all adds to the guilt many parents already feel at having to work during their children’s early years. But it’s a subject which gets little discussion by our politicians who are focused on increasing free hours offered by 
council-run nurseries.

Shouldn’t we instead be putting the children at the heart of this debate and asking what is best for them? What kind of care do they need while their parents work? Should we be asking employers to rearrange the work/life balance for people so they don’t have to make these choices, be it caring for children or an elderly relative? Should we be rearranging our priorities as a society so that children don’t come behind employer demands, mortgages and other financial pressures? Could we even consider that the idea to “free” people to work more might be flawed?

Perhaps it’s time to look at the working week, to reduce it and give us all more time to spend with our families, especially our children. Happy Days then indeed.

Use care cash on extra beds and more staff

MORE cash for social care services has to be welcomed, but the £2 million announced by Health Secretary Shona Robison will do little to tackle the major problem faced in Edinburgh: too few care home spaces and too few people working in the care sector to look after our vulnerable elderly.

The fact that 95 people died while waiting for a care package to be developed has little to do with a need to create a “hub” of social workers and clinical staff.

It’s to do with lack of beds in care homes – the extra 30 “interim” beds for Gylemuir are a drop in the ocean – and it’s to do with a lack of care workers as the stress levels are high and pay is poor. This is where the money needs to go, not in “enabling timely discharge” from hospitals. Discharge to where and to what? That’s where the problem lies.

Craigmillar revamp plan has to be the last

THERE’S yet another plan for Craigmillar and its rejuvenation. I’ve lost count of how many there have been over the years, but this is a £200 million scheme to create a “town centre” in the area which has seen much-needed drastic change in the last decade or so, particularly in its housing, schools and community facilities.

Here’s hoping this scheme will be the one which is brought to fruition and the one which makes the difference in creating social cohesion in an area too long blighted by exclusion and deprivation.

Stadium but no statue for Ken

IT strikes me we have enough statues of blokes in Edinburgh so let’s not put another one up – even if it is to Ken Buchanan. Naming the new Meadowbank stadium in his honour is much more fitting for a man used to having his name in lights.