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Nurseries `failing to meet challenge'

Day nurseries rarely give priority to children's social, emotional and intellectual development, says a report published today by the National Children's Bureau.

Day Nurseries at a Crossroads: Meeting the Challenge of Child Care in the Nineties, questions whether Britain should be more active in implementing the European Child Care Recommendation, which urges governments to act to reconcile the demands of work and family.

Authors Jeni Vernon and Celia Smith, call for a working group of Government departments, employers and early childhood organisations to be set up to establish a child-care agenda for Britain.

They say: "While we strongly commend Government initiatives on nursery education for four-year-olds, we must not forget the growing number of younger children placed in day care. With Britain due to respond to the European Child Care Recommendation by March 1995, the time is right to address the wider social issue of combining work and family responsibilities. A national child-care agenda could help promote children's well-being, as well as parents' peace of mind."

The researchers, who were supported by the Midland Bank, looked at more than 100 nurseries providing 4,000 places.

One of their main findings centred on the importance of stability, continuity and significant relationships to young children. Despite the importance of these factors to children's future social, emotional and intellectual development, they said, nurseries rarely gave them overriding priority in either the deployment of staff or the overall organisation of the nursery day. The report says: "More specifically, although the majority of nurseries professed to having adopted the key worker model (a system whereby every child and parent has a special relationship with one particular nursery worker), our observations suggest that this system is quite frequently misunderstood and only partially implemented inpractice."

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