By Gudrun Schultz

LONDON, England, September 27, 2006 ( – Children’s Minister Beverley Hughes suggested that putting babies and toddlers into daycare programs is not in their best interests, reported the Daily Mail yesterday.

Speaking at a conference fringe meeting, Ms. Hughes said more options are needed to give families greater flexibility in meeting the childcare needs of very young children. She emphasized the need for fathers to share in the responsibility of caring for children under school age, saying, “I don’t think we can square the circle unless fathers are equally and practically involved in the sharing of care and the work that families have to undertake.

“I’m concerned that unless we do focus on fathers, then women going out to work, kids in childcare, sometimes very young children, for whom I don’t think that’s the best option frankly, those choices aren’t available.”

Over 700,000 children are in daycare for more than four hours a day, according to the Daily Mail report. Over half of all mothers with children under age two are working full or part-time. One child out of five in full-time day care is under age two, and more than four out of 10 are younger than three.

Ms. Hughes tempered her remarks later in the meeting, saying, “I emphatically was not saying that children under two shouldn’t be left in childcare or that fathers need to be better dads.

“I was picking up on some research that suggests that certainly for younger children under that age, what parents want is more options that enable them to be the people who are looking after their kids if that’s what they want.”

Interestingly, Ms. Hughes introduced a bill last year that created a compulsory “curriculum” for children under the age of three, in essence forcing parents and childcare providers to follow government-set directives for the educational development of babies and toddlers.Â

The Early Years Foundation Stage, which comes into effect in September 2008, will carry the same legal authority as the national curriculum for schools, Ms. Hughes told the BBC at the time.

Critics of the program who denounced it as a “curriculum for babies” were largely dismissed as alarmist. An early childhood educators publication, however, recently carried a statement of concern saying the program is unsuited for the learning development of children at such a young age.

“We laughed at the newspapers saying it’s a national curriculum for babies, but now we find it is a national curriculum for babies,” a practitioner told Nursery World, according to the National Literacy Trust’s website.

See related LifeSiteNews coverage:

UK Proposes Mandatory Preschool from Birth