I've occasionally heard John Bowlby mentioned in "Nurseries are all evil" conversations, so I thought I'd read for myself.
I recently finished "Childcare and the Growth of Love" which was first published in1953. It came out of the context of the end of the second world war, and was the easy-reading version of a UN report on homeless children. There were many children displaced or orphaned during WWII in Europe, and Bowlby was one of the people who studied the effects of different kinds of upheaval.
Not surprisingly, the studies of the time all showed that children are happier at home than in an institution, even if their parents are pretty unsatisfactory, and they are better off with continuity of care in a foster home or orphanage than having lots of different careworkers. So "families" in orphanages were seen as one partial solution. This was all pretty shocking at the time - less than 10 years earlier than Bowlby's studies, children were regularly being evacuated from London and other major cities without their parents. Their physical safety was the main concern, but the emotional damage of such enforced separation had not really been taken into account. Nowadays, of course, it's taken as read that the babies in Rumanian orphanages who were only looked at when it was feeding or nappy changing time would be emotionally, physically and intellectually stunted.
Bowlby quite reasonably concludes that the best place for a child to be is with its parents, and that the state is better placed putting its welfare resources into supporting families rather than whisking children away into institutions, and my understanding is that that is now well entrenched in welfare provision, certainly in the UK.
But he then makes this extraordinary non sequiteur. Children are best brought up in their homes (agreed) so, says Bowlby, mothers shouldn't be going out to work, but should be staying at home with their children. He was, of course, writing at just the moment when thousands of men were being demobbed and needed employment, and I think that must have been the motivation behind the judgement, because his evidence was quite clear that living in an institution is bad for children, and that foster homes are a poor second to the real family home, but his evidence didn't actually show that day nurseries or child minders are a bad thing.
Don't get me wrong. I think day nurseries and child minders may well be a bad thing for small children, but Bowlby doesn't show it, at least, not in this book. Suggestions for further reading in the comments please...