Childcare - Adult to child ratios

The UK Government are looking at the child to adult ratios for farming out the little ones. Is it really acceptable to have one adult care for five under twos over a nine hour period? The human female is not designed for multiple births - this is for a reason, small babies are demanding and require one to one attention. As a cost cutting exercise I feel that this may well come back and bite the powers that be. There were many studies in the 90's that produced mixed results, however my over riding memory of these reports was the fact that babies placed in childcare before the age of one had more difficulty accepting instruction from adults as they were used to operating independently (I may be wrong, twas a long while ago).

The French model is being quoted as the way forward. I have no personal experience of this but shudder each time I see the local 5 year olds with their wheelie suitcases on the way to school. The recent school lunch discussion has also raised some alarm bells.

Many of you out there are far more qualified than I to comment on this - what are your opinions?

It's a mixture of what one has, the other does not and then I think comparing just two countries is a hiding to nothing anyway, there are just too many differences. Also, one should never forget, the discrepancy between any two schools anywhere is too great for us ever to measure exactly.

The difficulty is that the initial publication that sparked this discussion is wrong. Childminders in France are not allowed to look after 5 babies in their home, full stop.

Also childcare is government subsidised, therefore when I decided to return to work, I paid the vast sum of 78 centimes an hour to put my daughter in the creche. I wanted to return to work, therefore the cost of childcare wasn't an issue. When I had a second child, I was paid 550€ a month to stay at home until baby was 3years old and could go to school. In France families are free to make the choice that suits them, not a 'choice' dictated by finances.

Schools are a totally different discussion, here we don't have 15hrs of free childcare a week for 3yr olds, we have a full time school place if we wish to take it up. Also, my 6 year old is in a class of 8 pupils and my 8 year old daughter is in a class of 16 - the largest class in the school. To be fair, our local school is a private school - for which I pay the vast sum of 35€ per month for each child. Now that is what I call choice, the UK can't compete with that. OK, school trips and so on are limited but, I have 2 kids that can read, write know the basics of grammar, and so on. The eldest knows all her times tables, does regular dictation and the pair of them are thoroughly grounded in good manners which the school insist on. Certainly, it would be better if the school did allow for more creativity but at least they can spell it, which is not exactly the UK's strong point.

I have to say, having read this discussion and the others in a similar vein, that I am very glad my Granddaughters are at school in the UK. The eldest is in reception at the local primary in a class of 20 with a brilliant (male - which is still quite unusual) teacher, two TA's and parent helpers. They cover the curriculum in innovative ways and have lots of fun in the process. This term they have done mini abseiling, a Gruffalo hunt in the woods (where they learnt about the local wildlife) and a barbecue where they prepared their own food and tried things that might not of been palatable before. All of these things are structured as rewards with the whole class choosing from a list of treats when they have earned enough points. They appear to manage one treat a fortnight. All this in conjunction with a strong emphasis on reading and maths. And Mr. O does a class blog that I am very grateful for (access for families only). I do understand that not all schools are this good, but when it works the UK has exceptional educational facilities (and superb teaching staff). And the parents are actively encouraged to participate at all levels, from classroom/trip assistance to school management. I have a feeling that the French should be looking at the UK model - not the other way around.

I think Tracy, the main point you are proving is that it is as clear as mud. Unlikely, but two women who have two sets of twins each share a house with their twins just over two and recently born. Eight in a house, would it suddenly be against the law? That may be a ridiculous hypothetical situation but then the blurred definition of 'mineur' which in law makes the distinction between somebody below the age of majority only and not as a part of childhood and youth becomes absurd.

For those of us working with children's rights, Jean-Pierre Rosenczveig of Défense des Enfants International - France has more than once argued, little progress is made to actually get to know much about them as people. They are, in his words, objectified and classified as they were a hundred years ago in a world that has moved on. I shall not be working on children's rights in France, I want a quiet life! I'll stick to the developing world.

There is some info here but as usual, clear as mud. It seems to say that the max no of children at any one time is 4, including the childminders own children under 3 yrs old. It also puts a maximum of 6 'minors' in the house at any one time. Not sure what the difference is between an 'enfant' and a 'mineur' obviously one is child and one is a 'minor' but don't know at which age a child becomes a minor? Normally a child under 2 is referred to as a 'bébé' the same as 'infant' in the UK.

I can not find any legal reference that says in France childminders are allowed to take on this amount of children. Each childminder has an individual contract that specifies the amount of children they are allowed to care for in their home - they take into account how big the house is, how many bedrooms there are and the number of other adults/children in the house.

Having searched endlessly for child care when my kids were under 2, (only 3 yrs ago) every one told me - no, we're not allowed to have more than 2 babies to care for, so I really don't know where these figures are coming from. The ratios for childminders change once the children are 2 yrs old and they may have more but again the maximum is 4 children under 6 and this is further limited when you have under 2's. Wish I could find the darn regs!

When they start school, the government is obliged to provide a school place for every 3yr old and in poorer areas, every 2 yr old. However, this is school, not pre-school and the children are obliged to be toilet trained before they may start. Then the ratio is enormous:-)

Bernadette, I believe its more complicated than just ratios. I have been shocked at the state of childcare provision as well as disparity thereof that exists in the UK. Our nursery, in N.I has just hiked up the prices -an increase of over 6% which is crazy given that most public sector and private salaries, have been frozen for the past 2 years! This means we would be paying just short of a grand for our boys -8 and 4 years old ! I mean this is just not feasible and the figures shown in the link in this thread from the BBC doesnt surprise me at all... that British families spend more of their salary on childcare than elsewhere in Europe and the fact that its not worth most women returning to work-

But back to the discussion though, I dont think in terms of training and provision that childminders are in a position to take on 5 children under 5- I do see this as a desperate shortcut to reduce childcare costs however at the expense of quality of childcare provision. My experience with childminders, is that in fact, they cost almost the same price as nurseries and are not as well equipped etc. thats the reason we chose a nursery for my youngest son- there is a greater emphasis on social and creative interaction that some childminders dont provide- or should i say that most childminders dont provide. I mean as we all know the early years for little ones are the very fabric and foundations of their existence and the fact of the matter is, after 1 year off most mothers will have to go back to work-thats reality, however, most childminders do not continue with CPD and are not sufficiently trained. This is an area I feel that is not being addressed. Its easy to just up the childminder to child ratio but then again thats the goverment for you. I am interested in finding out how the French government funds free pre- school provisions for littles ones- any one know?

Eeeek!! I think this another one of those things where the harder we begin to look, all manner of contradictions and different regulations, recommendations and who knows what else will start to emerge. Whatever, the framework and practice held to be good practice here in France needs overhauling or else as other countries begin to move on they will get left behind. On the other hand, they need to 'escape' from the medicalisation of childhood into including them as part of the social environment of civil society and then take it from there. But I would say that, wouldn't I, it is very much central in my working environment.

The best link I can find isthis one where it states that the childminder can look after up to four children aged under 6. However, I know from experience that each childminder has an agreement that states exactly how many children and babies and I am sure it is still only 2 under 2's without a derogation. I'd like to know where the article takes it's French law from as I can't find it - and must get on and do some work of my own now!

Love the idea of a childrens hotel though!

The ratios there are for public (e.g. pre-school) rather than for private arrangements. The 1:8 is the maximum permitted number of children in 'normal' situations. The 1:6.5 is on the government education site, several off us rushed home to check because we could not believe it was that high. Certainly our sports teacher friend (secondary at that) never has more than 1:5 and often 1:3 for competition trips when over a whole weekend and a long distance from home.

I have mainly done participatory research with children for many years, my wife being much younger obviously less. Either way, we find any notion of 1:8 or 1:6.5 just mind boggling. With very young children, 1:2 is pretty well ideal because as soon as they are mobile two will interact and effectively do some of it for us. I, on the other hand, whilst I agree the smallest need the security of home and at least one parent or the other (as ours always had), once they are playing with other children particularly benefit from the stimulation of peer company several hours a day. That extends as they get older, now at 9 and 11 our two can get on with life for hours on end without us (we keep a discrete eye) and leaving one or the other with family or friends for a few days works well for them now.

Link attached, in this case they appear to be talking about childminders. The current French ratio for under twos is 1:5. Under fours is 1:8. Not something that I would like to take on. With this number of little ones in a domestic setting there must be issues. Child minders do a very good job but more than three children must be a huge burden and not feasible in the long term. As to the matter of crèche - they may work for some children but can be very noisy and intimidating for others. For short periods they are fine, long term I am not so sure. Many moons ago we used a childrens hotel in London forovernight stays if I was going out and we wanted to treat the children the following day. It was a huge adventure for them, they loved every minute. I am not so sure about the children who were parked there for a week at a time while Mummy and Daddy jetted off on business. I believe wholeheartedly that small children need to be at home, learning to interact socially with the people they are closest to, not to spend the better part of of their waking hours in a different environment. I understand that everyone is encouraged to go out to work, and financially needs must - but at what cost to the children?

Yes Tracy, it is apparently 2 under 3s (or all of being 2, same thing) as you say. But above is shocking since we heard it.

It is not only the UK who are looking at the adult to child ratios but also other UN organisations, the EU and various bodies who are working with or concerned with children.

OK, we have just been shocked by the same school at the root of the lunch discussion. Next summer they have proposed a three day trip to Paris. Out of the top three classes only one boy's parents said 'No'. Because of the system that is not a financial matter because where families cannot afford to pay, the school (well commune really) cover it. €120 had to be paid now and they hope to raise the rest of the money. What was not forthcoming was enough detail. So they held a meeting.

Firstly they got a sour reaction because each child will need to be at school for a 0600 punctual departure, which means getting up at about 0500 for our daughter. They have to take their own food to cover until that evening, therefore in a cool box was stipulated. They arrive in Paris at the Louvre and go there before on to the hotel. Enough parents seem to have volunteered (they pay full amount) to go with the children. Now the punchlines.

They have managed to make the French standard which is (bizarrely) 6.5 per adult, 6 or 7 is better but 8 to 10 year olds. They have done that exactly. The question was raised; 'What if one gets ill?'. The response was 'le Quinze', the Samu in other words. Questions followed. 'Would there be no person familiar to that child to accompany them home?'. response, 'No, the Samu are professionals'. Then my wife and a friend got going. The friend is a sports teacher who does competition trips. 'What if several children get sick?' Same answer, even if they are several hours apart. Then came the question about what if it is minor to which the answer was that the child/children could stay back at the hostel with an adult. It transpired that even if it was 12 children only one adult would stay behind.

Of course, the whole catalogue of questions becomes irrelevant now, but the issue of travel sickness and so forth came into that, and if a howling travel sick 8 year old is demanding their mother. That one got a few backs up. The response was that it is a school trip, therefore they are under the auspices of school discipline and such behaviour would have to stop.

Back to your question. France is not alone, several other countries allow children from about 3 to school leaving age to be looked after in this ratio. Yet my wife and I have both worked in developing countries where 1:3 was the standard decades ago and this would be frowned upon. I was a school governor in Wales immediately before moving here. The Welsh Assembly still allowed 1:5 with risk assessment and governorship scrutiny and approval. We will allow our daughter, as too will other friends, to decide but we hope they will pull out. We took children to the meeting, which went down badly, and they heard the arguments and now they are talking amongst themselves. If only about 10 children or their families pull out now then the trip will have to be abandoned.

That is how it works here anyway.

It depends where there are talking about - 5 under 2s in a private home with just one nounou, yikes. If it is in a creche with several adults present at all times then it is a different kettle of fish.

Ahh, just reread the post and see you are talking about the UK, no experience of that at all. Have you got a link tpo the discussion, the French ratios are not as low as that. My kids were both with a nounou as babies but the maximum was 2 under 2s with a nounou. Our nounou did have 3 at one stage but that was depannage for another nounou and she had to get special dispensation.

Thank you :)

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