Eye spy
As the number of day nurseries installing CCTV and webcam systems increases, we look at the issues around this growth industry and hear from companies, nurseries and other involved parties.
Published on Jul/ Aug 2005, Nursery Management Today

Out of sight no longer means out of mind when it comes to parents leaving their young children at day nurseries, if the growth in the number of day nurseries that have installed security systems and webcams over past few years is anything to go by.

The use of webcams by day nurseries in United States first started about a decade ago and by 2000 they had been installed in about one per cent of America's 102,000 nurseries. As ever, what happens first over there soon appears on this side of the Atlantic too as the number of day nurseries in the UK with CCTV security systems and webcams has grown over past few years and is continuing to rise.

Just as in more and more homes, the days of videotape are over. For thanks to the arrival of hi-tech digital technology in the past five years, the security industry market has changed considerably, especially in the quality of images recorded and the ease and simplicity with which equipment can now be installed. An estimated 8,000 security companies in the UK supply the technology and equipment that protect all types and sizes of businesses, school, and families in their homes.

In the past three years an increasing number of day nurseries have had digital CCTV and webcam security systems installed as a means of demonstrating to parents that they are serious about protecting the children in their care. These systems, combined with more powerful PCs and faster broadband Internet access, mean that parents can now log on to a webcam at the nursery while they work to see their children happily at play.

But what does the reliance on nursery webcams say about the parents who log on to watch their children? Research by Danish psychologist Vibeke Jorgensen on the use of webcams in nurseries in Denmark published last year found that they 'function as a tool giving the parent the feeling of protecting the child'. Some parents told him webcams gave them the feeling that they were taking part in the nursery activities with their children, even though they were miles apart.

Jorgensen, an independent researcher who is neither pro-nor anti- the use of webcams in day nurseries, said parents used webcams to evaluate if their children were OK, 'hoping that he or she is'; to see how their child was developing compared to other children; to watch the relationship between their child and other children and with nursery staff; and see if an activity they appreciated was taking place at the nursery. 'They also told him that webcams also enabled them to consider their own relationship with their child and their abilities as parents.'

Jorgensen says webcams in nurseries 'can at least temporarily fulfil some needs of parents in a way in which conflicts with nursery teachers and children are avoided'. He recognises that, like mobile phones and baby alarms, the webcam is 'just one of many modern technologies which over the next few years might change the relationship between children and parents (and parents and nursery teachers)'.

The Berkshire-based company, which was founded two years ago, has installed security systems in more than 100 nurseries across the UK. It facilitates such parental viewing by using technology protected by 3DES encryption and other multi-layered technologies.

Edward Wong, technical manager at NurseryCAM, points out that such webcam facilities are optional for parents and that the first point of entry for early years settings is usually the installation of a CCTV security system, which, he says, 'helps to promote open and accountable nurseries.'

Edward insists that the installation of CCTV and webcam systems in day nurseries is being driven by parental demand. 'Once a nursery installs a webcam system, parents put pressure on other nurseries in the area to have their own webcams installed,' he says.

The three companies all offer day nurseries a 24-hour CCTV surveillance system that includes infra-red cameras and digital recorder that stored data and automatically overwrite old recording after a pre-set time, and motion-detection recoding using a system that records images 10 seconds before and after a camera is activated by movement.

NurseryCAM says it wants to make parents happy, not to make staff worry.

Indeed, perhaps the biggest hurdle day nurseries thinking of installing some form of CCTV system have to face is worried staff. Edward says, 'It is very natural for nursery staff to feel reluctant about having a CCTV system installed. We visit the nursery for a consultation to explain how it works and to reassure them.'

'A lot of nurseries decide to install just a CCTV system at first, then upgrade it after six months after they feel comfortable with it.'

An online survey conducted by the company echoes Jorgensen's findings. Ninety-five per cent of parents said they would prefer their children to be in nurseries with the NurseryCam system because it could help to increase their involvement in their children's development.

NurseryCam's literature argues that having such technology installed extends a day nursery's services in the same way that 'all five-star hotels have swimming pools', that it helps nurseries to extend their 'open door' policy because it gives parents peace of mind, and that such systems increase enrolment and customer retention because parents know they can log on and see their children from anywhere at anytime.

Edward says, 'The five per cent of parents who are unhappy with the system are usually unhappy on a philosophical level, questioning why it is needed and saying that the technology has gone too far. But we're trying to give a service so that parents feel emotionally better.'

NurseryCAM is also trying to give parents a more flexible service. It plans to launch a system in the near future that will allow them to watch their children at the nursery while on the move via the colour screen of their new generation mobile telephones.

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