Eight out of ten parents send sick children to nursery

Eight out of ten parents have sent a child to nursery when he or she is feeling unwell or incubating an illness, according to research conducted by the Manchester based North West Childcare.

A few years ago, the agency questioned 1,000 parents and 100 nursery heads. 86% of parents surveyed admitted to sending a child back to nursery before he or she had fully recovered from an illness. Worryingly, 28% admitted to disguising signs of a highly contagious eye or ear infection. Other ploys included administering a dose of Calpol just before dropping them off to 'perk them up' and not divulging that a child was suffering from diarrhoea.

The research also pointed to the widespread practice of parents expecting nursery staff to administer medicine to their ailing children. Further, 17% of respondents revealed they had neglected to tell the nursery that their child was on antibiotics, despite strict rules that children should have taken their medication for at least two days before re-admission.

All the nursery heads interviewed expressed concern about this growing trend. One explained: "Some parents bring in children with their eyes red and streaming and deny there is anything wrong with them. We ask them how they would feel if someone made them go into work feeling like that. This week, we were left to care for a young child with a huge boil on their bottom who was screaming in pain."

Another cited a case of a child with highly contagious thrush in her mouth. Her parents did not let the nursery know until three days after the illness started. "We’ve had many children coming in with clear symptoms of conjunctivitis and their parents denying it. They'll try to wipe the eyes with a cotton wool bud but it comes up again five minutes later. We find many parents would rather chance leaving a sick child in nursery than not turn up to work - so we become a medical nursery."

Amidst the growing debate on the incidence of workplace absenteeism, 68% of those parents surveyed said they had phoned in work sick themselves when it was actually their child who was ill.

Julia Harris, of North West Childcare commented: "Parents often fail to take into account that there will be many occasions when their children will be off sick from nursery as they build up their immunity, particularly from six months to two years. If a child is frequently ill and both parents are working and there is no support network, nursery care may not be feasible and a nanny might be a viable alternative. At the end of the day, there’s no right or wrong with childcare, it’s what suits each family best at any given time."

Susan Fruhman, the then headmistress of the Lillian Harris Day Nursery in Cheadle, Cheshire, is one of the many nursery heads who regularly finds herself at odds with parents of unwell children. She explained: "In previous generations, children were given the opportunity to recuperate fully before being sent back to school or nursery. Now parents push for their children to be taken back far too prematurely. We often see children coming back into nursery looking pale and still very much under the weather.

"Parents attitudes can be quite irresponsible. If we do accept their ill child, it is not only other children who get sick but staff too. In the most severe of cases, this can lead to a nursery actually having to close.

"I think there needs to be a clear distinction drawn between what a nursery is geared up to do and caring for a sick child which is something altogether different. Ultimately, parents must consider what is best for children, not only for their own but for others, too."

Adele Booth, a mother of two from Manchester, has a beauty business to run and is one of thousands of parents who face the dilemma of what to do with a sick child. She said: "On a couple of mornings, I’ve found one of the children with a bit of a temperature, given them a dose of medicine, dropped them off at nursery and hoped they would be fine. It sometimes seems impossible to do anything else."

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