Kids paying the price for working parents

TWENTY per cent of Australian parents are 'unfit' to raise their children because they lack the means or the life skills.

That is the bleak assessment of child health expert Professor Fiona Stanley, an adviser to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

Prof Stanley is also a former Australian of the Year and founder of the Institute for Child Health Research. She said many parents didn't devote enough time to their children because of work commitments.

"There have been incredible changes in the workplace, which might have been good for people's income, but are not good for parenting," she said.

"You have more hours of work, more women working, but without men or the business world or government coming forward with good childcare. So who's responsible for the children when a high proportion of women are working?"

Prof Stanley said putting children into childcare from a very young age was detrimental to them.

She said paid maternity leave was crucial to addressing some of the issues.

An interim report on paid maternity leave is due to be handed to the Federal Government today.

The Productivity Commission report is expected to recommend 14 weeks' paid maternity leave for all working women, but Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard said at the weekend this would have to be weighed up in the context of next year's budget.

Mullumbimby parenting consultants Scott Longden and Karen Nelson, from Connected Parenting, agreed with most of what Prof Stanley was saying.

"But I don't like the term 'unfit' - most parents are doing the best with what they've got. I believe it is more a case of them being unsupported by government policy, community attitudes and actions," Mr Longden said.

"There is a lot of research coming out of the UK and the US on kids in childcare. What they are finding is increased aggressive behaviour, not listening; things that are generally considered 'bad behaviour."

Mr Longden said he had heard of one case where a baby who was only four-days-old was put into childcare.

"Something like 60 per cent of kids have both parents working. With the price of mortgages these days it's very hard for families," Ms Nelson said.

"There is an enormous amount of pressure on parents to return to work as soon as possible after the birth of their children, and this negatively impacts on their ability to form strong and secure attachments between parents and children."

The Longdens have two boys, Jasper, 2, and Baylin, 4, and a year ago, after 10 years working in health education, they started their business to help other new parents sort through the maze of parenting advice.

Connected Parenting offers one-on-one coaching and advice, as well as running workshops for people approaching or in the early stages of parenthood

"We have prehistoric babies with new age parents," Mr Longden said. "Babies haven't really changed for thousands and thousands of years, but parents have. We've all got so much on and babies can't really handle that busyness - there's no down time.

"(Leading child psychologist) Steve Biddulph has attributed not spending time with kids to them not having good self-confidence and as a precursor to physical ailments such as ADHD."

"Children learn from modelling. If they don't see their parents eating healthy food, or exercising, or relaxing, then they're not going to learn either," Ms Nelson said.

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