A new study of private nurseries has serious implications for recruitment, reports Karen Thornton.
Very young children are best looked after by their mothers - according to the childcare workers caring for them in private nurseries.
And when these workers become parents themselves, they plan to work part-time, at home, or not at all, according to Government-commissioned research.
The findings have serious implications for recruiting and retaining staff in the expanding childcare sector as the commitment by ministers to provide 1.6 million childcare places for working parents by 2004 is dependent on finding the staff.
The survey of 2,000 nursery students and childcare workers in registered (private) day nurseries, carried out by London University's Institute of Education, is the first UK study to interview a large sample of childcare workers in detail about their personal circumstances and ambitions and their views on their workplace.
The vast majority of both students and workers were young (average age 24), female and white. More than a fifth of heads and a third of other staff had no childcare qualifications. There were high levels of commitment to and satisfaction with childcare work, and more than 90 per cent viewed their work as a longer-term career.
But in focus groups, participants said their career plans were affected by the low value attached to their work both within nurseries and by society at large - as reflected in poor pay (nursery heads earned an average of pound;13,400 a year, and other staff just pound;7,700) - and their personal beliefs that mothers should not leave children to be cared for by others.
Only 9 per cent said they would carry on working full-time once they had children - and a quarter of nursery heads and a third of other staff expected to have children or other caring commitments that would take them away from their jobs over the next five years.
"Given the distinctive profile of the workforce - 98 per cent female, with a low average age - combining childcare work and parenting is an issue for many workers. This over-reliance on one segment of the workforce may exacerbate recruitment and retention difficulties," say the Institute's Claire Cameron, Charlie Owen and Peter Moss.
"Childcare students expressed considerable doubts about using formal childcare for their own children, and suggested they would change their employment when they became parents."
They suggest improving pay and conditions, including "family friendly" working, broadening recruitment to the workforce beyond young white women, and improving the status of childcare work in order to avoid a recruitment crisis.