Some years ago, Stella Ike noticed that her one-year old daughter whom she took to a crèche every week day was usually dizzy and inactive whenever she picked her up in the evenings. Her daughter who used to be active and playful suddenly became dull. She took her to the hospital but was told that she was probably tired and reacting to new environments. One day, Mrs Ike decided to visit her child during working hours and was shocked to find her playing with a bottle of pills.
“My first impression was that they were giving her and other children in the crèche pills probably to make them sleep or something like that,” she said. “Unfortunately, there was no label on the bottle so I don’t know exactly what kind of drug it was. I had heard of some crèches where they gave the babies sleeping pills to make them sleep but didn’t actually believe it. Seeing my baby holding the pills made me realise that it could actually be true and I was very upset. When I confronted them, they said the medication belonged to one of the nannies who left it about carelessly. I didn’t believe them and I withdrew my child from there immediately.”
Finding it hard to trust
Many parents attest that it is a bit difficult to entrust the life of their babies at a very tender age to strangers even in an institution like a crèche. Some of their fears are as a result of unsettling incidences they have heard about the way children are cared for at some crèches.
For Jayne Dike, the proprietress of Early Steps Crèche, Surulere, such incidences can be avoided when an employer takes special care in employing only people who are dedicated child care workers. “Early Steps Crèche is a registered and approved institution,” she said. “We take special care of our children here not just because we are paid to do so, but because myself and every other person employed here to take care of children have a passion for children. We enjoy our work and that way, its impossible for us to show anything but love to the children brought here. I think owners of crèches should not only look for nannies with good academic qualification but people who are very passionate about children. It’s very easy to pick out someone who is not really dedicated to child care just by observing the person around children for a while. If any odd behaviour is noticed, the person should be sacked immediately. We cannot afford to take chances with the lives of our children.”
Observe your child
At the crèche, the nannies were seen feeding, carrying, and playing with the babies; even while some of the babies played by themselves. Margaret Braimoh, a children’s counsellor, says that observing the children’s behaviour at home is a better measure of the crèche’s performance. “What is most important is for the parents to be keen observers; especially the mother. They should not let any small detail or unusual behaviour pass them by without reacting to it; I mean any unusual behaviour they notice at home. That way, they can prevent greater damage. For instance, if you notice that your child cries too much at home and you don’t get such complaints from the crèche, then you know there is a problem somewhere.”
Another crèche proprietress, Kikelomo Onifade, of Kinky Kids Crèche and Nursery School, explains that having a limit on the number of children absorbed into the crèche and sticking to it is important so that the nannies don’t get too overwhelmed with work and resort to unscrupulous means of controlling the children. “What we do here is that we don’t take in more kids than we can handle,” she said. “We have only two crèche classes and not more than ten kids in each of the classes. At any point in time, there must be at least four nannies in each of the classes. Most times, they are usually more. But they work in shifts, so they rotate among themselves. If for any reason, any one of the nannies cannot make it to work, she must give adequate notice so that a replacement can be arranged. Also, they have two supervisors plus myself who go round periodically to make sure everything is okay with the kids.”
But despite the controversy surrounding the quality of care given to children at crèches, some mothers still say they need their services. Bisi Adedugbe, a stock broker and working mother of two had this to say. “I don’t see anything wrong with putting one’s child in a crèche. As mothers, we have to provide for our children which makes us work. Those of us who work in offices where we can’t take our children to need such institutions. They are not the best option really, but it is God that protects.”
Her view is similar to that of Ngozi Moses, an event planner and first time mother. “I can’t always be at home to take care of my baby,” she said. “I am an entrepreneur but I move around a lot and it is not safe to take my child along with me always. Besides, she will distract me from my work. That is why I chose a crèche that is close to my home. That way, I can be with her often as I can. I don’t even bring her here everyday.”
However, some parents completely abhor the idea of taking their children to a crèche. “I would never take my child to a crèche,” said Jonathan Ibekeme, a father of three. “Those early months are the best opportunity both parents have to bond with a child and if the child spends those years in a crèche, the parents have lost some precious time that can never be recovered. Babies are too delicate to toy with. It is not possible for someone else to show your baby the kind of love the mother will give. Besides, babies are very demanding and you need patience to deal with them. How won’t the nannies give them drugs to sleep when they are overwhelmed with so much work. As a man, i make sure my wife is comfortable and doesn’t do a job that takes her away from home so much. My wife works from home so she is at home with our children most of the time. That is the way I’ve planned my life and that is the way it will remain.”