Globally, balancing work and family remains a paramount challenge for women. More and more women are joining the workforce and there is an inevitable need to provide care for children especially those within the age bracket 0-3 years. According to a World Bank analysis, childcare – or the lack thereof – may constrain women in both urban and rural areas from participating in the workforce. However, a lot of schools, in addition to normal activities have included early childhood care to the list of services rendered. There is the Day Care (mostly for children between ages 0 and 3) and the After School for ages 0-9. The child care services are welcome developments and it is a very lucrative area of business if things are done correctly. The big question however, is “How do we ensure the safety of children while away from their parents?”
In recent years, there have been recurrent deaths of infant and toddlers under the care of supposed care givers in day care centres otherwise known as crèche. In 2014, a one year old boy was reported to have died as a result of food aspiration in his lungs. In 2012, another seven month old child was reported to have died as a result of cerebral oedema due to marked anaemia with an evidence of diazepam in his body fluid. Diazepam is a sedative that has been reportedly abused by a lot care givers in order to make children sleep so they can go about their own individual businesses.
The most recent one happened on the 26th of October, 2017. A youth corps member was called from the crèche that her seven month old baby had pap coming out of her nose and mouth with terrible shivers. The baby died!
Considering these kinds of events, mothers who work outside the home would suffer emotional and psychological instability which could lead to a decline in productivity at work. It was reported some years back that a mum whose newly employed maid kidnapped her three kids while she was at work. She had to quit her job after the kids were found. Women having to choose between their careers outside the home and their obligations at home is unsustainable as women are key stakeholders in driving economic growth and development.
Mothers cannot always be with their children. A woman has a lot of roles to play outside the home. External assistance which could come in different forms is inevitable. Being good mothers does not necessarily have to cost women other aspects of their lives.
According to NERDC, in their National Minimum Standards for Early Child Care Centres in Nigeria document, the care and support received by a child in terms of good health, nutrition and psychosocial care and protection are crucial in the formation and development of intelligence, personality and social behaviour. In addition to these, safety and security have become pressing issues as a result of the security lapse in the country.
Some crèches in the highbrow areas of Lagos have security cameras, doors and all sorts of sophisticated facilities to ensure safety and security. This is not farfetched and can be replicated with minimal costs even in the middle and lower class areas.
Nevertheless, the government, business owners and parents are the key stakeholders when it comes to optimum childcare. They all have important roles that are vital to achieving sustainability in the early childcare sector.
In Lagos State, the Ministry of Women Affairs is saddled with the responsibility of certifying a crèche. There should be intensive monitoring to ensure that set regulations are strictly adhered as chances cannot be taken with lives of these defenceless little lads. A lot of childcare centres do not have licenses to operate. Our legal system also needs to take the issues of child maltreatment with utmost priority whenever a case is reported.
In as much as the business of running a crèche is highly lucrative due to the high influx of mums into the corporate space, owners of crèches should not take the assurance of patronage for granted by offering sub-standard services. The safety and security of the children kept in their custody is their responsibility. The choice of care givers should be such that they are qualified to carry out expected duties efficiently. There are educational requirements that should be met before anyone can be left to take proper care of children.
Security cameras are no longer nice-to-haves, they are now must-haves. Moreover, an in-house trained first aider should be employed or preferably, get all staff trained in basic first aid. A crèche should also have access to a good nearby hospital for cases it cannot handle.
Employers of working mums also need to take seriously the sustainability of the relationship between mother and child as this will ensure utmost productivity on the part of the mum when she is rest assured of the well-being of her child. Some companies now have in-house child care services which allows mothers to check on their children any time of the day.
It is the sole responsibility of parents to provide the best care for their children. This can however be outsourced when it becomes inevitable to do so. However, getting the best hands to cater for them when absent is very key to their well-being and that of the parents.
Childcare is no longer a personal issue. It is a social responsibility that involves everyone. Employers providing on-site childcare facilities will help keep highly qualified mothers at work whilst knowing that their little ones are well taken care of. Furthermore, it will reduce parental stress at work, attract and retain working mothers and create a positive work place environment.
For any facility that renders services to children, environmental health and safety should be at the core of their business. Care givers should be well trained in basic first aid, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and emergency response as child care is beyond changing diapers, rocking to sleep and feeding. The first three years are the most important in a child’s life and should be treated with utmost importance.
Finally, there is a need for stricter monitoring and penalties for erring childcare businesses, irrespective of their sizes. Minimum standards have to be met else such facilities be sealed up.