By Josephine Agbonkhese & Anino Aganbi
Last month, a video surfaced on Facebook, showing several scenes of a boy of about eight-year-old heavily bullying toddlers in a daycare centre while an older lady—apparently the boy’s mother— appeared at intervals to sooth the crying toddlers, pretending to be unaware of the cause of their cries. At least her failure to reprimand the ‘little demon’ like most Facebook users described the boy, proved that.
Unfortunately, such aren’t the only tales that have emerged from crèches/daycare centres which are supposed to serve as safe havens for babies and help them interact with one another so as to develop the ability to express themselves, through the supervision of a qualified attendant, while mothers go about their daily activities without worry.
There have been dozens of different tales concerning daycare operators and their employees’ poor treatment of toddlers left in their care.
Mrs Christy Nnamdi, coincidentally an educationist, told Woman’s Own that the poor condition of most of the daycare centres her children had attended drove her into the business of early child care. “I never liked the way they looked whenever I picked them up by the close of day. I had a preconceived notion of what a daycare centre should be like because I was already well-traveled even before becoming a mother.
Another mother who simply identified herself as Gift, said her baby constantly suffered diaper rash and she spent months switching from one diaper brand to the other, not knowing the real cause of the problem.
‘My baby constantly suffered diaper rash’
“My baby joined this certain daycare when she was about four-month-old. And up till when she was seven, I was battling with diaper rash. I actually thought it was the diaper. But something told me to change her daycare centre even though the one she was using looked a bit clean. I did, and few weeks after, I noticed the diaper ointment I was using on her suddenly became effective. That means she was not changed when she was usually supposed to; maybe unless it was time for me to pick her up.
“My sister, it’s only God that protects these children for us. How can someone collect money and promise to render you services even when they know they are too lazy for such jobs? Caring for babies is a challenging job and I believe only people who are competent and humane enough should launch into the business. Not just anybody,” the aggrieved mum said.
‘I met my 9-month-old crying, unattended to’
Another, a father, who identified himself as Ade, gave his own experience. Ade’s 9-month-old son attended one of the daycare centres in his neighbourhood because his wife had to be at work. One fateful day, instead of letting his wife pick their child on her way from work, he decided to help out since he returned earlier from his workplace.
As he approached the entrance, Ade said he heard the loud cry of his son and decided to hold-on a little while to see if the crying would stop. But it grew only louder, almost leaving him in tears as he wondered if that was what the child went through daily. Particularly as the boy isn’t known to be fussy.
He suddenly went in and found the tot lying in a cot, unattended to, even as he cried louder. “The supervisors instantly pretended to attend to him as soon as they sighted me, but that was his last day in that centre,” the father of three said.
‘My child’s safety was compromised daily’
Mrs Osahon, a marketing executive with an insurance firm, shared hers as well. Her daughter, now a year and eight months old, attended a centre whose official closing time was given as 6pm. But she soon noticed her child, along with other children whose parents didn’t arrive before 5pm, was daily taken to the compound next to the daycare, and made to sit on a chair in its premises until she returned.
She recalled: “I didn’t see any fault in that until another mum withdrew her child from the centre for that single reason. Soon, it occurred to me that there has been a breach of contract and that my child’s safety was being compromised. I complained to the owner of the centre but she told me it was because the place becomes dark after 5pm and the supervisor who stayed by till 6pm usually had to light it up with candles. Hence the decision to let her wait in an open place with the children.”
‘Mine were well cared for’
Another, Ronke, however spoke in defence of daycare operators, saying, “Not all of them are bad”. Ronke is a career mother of two, one of whom still attends a daycare.
She said: “My child’s centre is marvelous. My first child used the place and the second is also there right now. I never had any issue with them. My first was healthy and always clean even if I went there unexpected. I’ve not noticed otherwise with my second baby either. The centre actually has mature women taking care of the babies.”
Another mother who spoke on anonymity said she had a relatively good experince all the way.
She said: “I had a reasonably good experience all the way, with no major negative incidence. “At the first daycare I took my firstborn to though, the older woman in charge felt she knew more than I did and was mixing my baby’s food with borehole water.
I complained, but she asked me what was so special about my baby, saying all the other babies were drinking it. The baby soon fell ill, and then I left there.
“The second place was where all my children were taken care of. Once, my baby had an injury, but I politely warned them to be more careful. They heeded my advice. I also let them know I was very particular about environmental cleanliness, washing of hands before feeding babies, etc.”
These few positive testimonies notwithstanding, there seems to be more ugly tales than good ones about the practices of these centres which are supposed to stand in parents’ stead for the children. But how much of a choice have parents got if they have to choose between personally caring for their little ones and earning a living for themselves and their children? This can be even worse for single parents.
While these unpleasant tales trend, parents who aren’t privileged to have grannies look after their toddlers in their absence, are forever left between the devil(risk of having a nanny care for them at home) and the deep-blue sea(leaving them in a daycare centre). This is even worsened by the inability of most employers to provide in-house crèches for employees with toddlers. Hence, the business of early childhood care has continued thrive, thrive and thrive.
Thriving venture vs best practices
It isn’t therefore uncommon to find new centres springing up almost on daily basis. And guess what? Just like pre and primary schools, there are always mothers waiting to register their toddlers—and even without asking too much questions—once a centre is colourfully painted; leaving one wondering if that’s all there is to establishing a daycare. Does anyone care at all about best practices? At least like one sees in the very few modest ones around town—but in which parents must pay through their nose.
That said, the tales of parents prove that a major gap in the early childhood care sector appears to be the total lack of regard for standards, as well as the failure of government and stakeholders to implement recommended minimum standards laid down by the Nigerian Educational Research and Development Council, NERDC.
It would however be recalled that the Lagos State government was somewhat close to giving a major overhaul to the sector earlier this year, in response to the excesses of nannies and cases of child kidnapping, widely reported about the sector. The plan was to establish a databaseof daycare centres in the state and ensure operators were well guided. Not much has however been heard of that plan since then.