Webcams - the debate
Are Webcams the ultimate quality standard, which allow parents to have complete open access to their chosen nursery, or do they represent evidence of a breakdown of trust between parents and nursery staff? Will they become an essential part of everyday life or are they just a passing fad?
Published on Jan 2005, Practical Professional Child Care

Last August the BBC's Real Story programme Nurseries Undercover unleashed a wave of panic for many parents throughout the country who send their children to nursery. The programme made use of hidden webcams to catch out unprofessional nursery staff and sparked off the debate of whether webcams should be used in all nurseries. But the issues are widespread - is it right to expect staff to be permanently under the eye of a camera? How will it influence their behaviour? How safe id the internet - could the systems be hacked into? Do webcams encourage parents to become overly protective? And what about the children - should they be show at all times, not just to their own parents but others too?

A webcam system allows parents, using a password, to log onto a computer at home or in the office and access a camera which shows live pictures of their child in nursery.

The finishing touch
Michelle Redman, a mother of two, has no qualms about webcams - in fact she actively encouraged the nursery she uses, Little Dreams in Feltham, London, to install a system and was delighted when it was eventually in place. However, the view of the professional associations such as the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA), the Daycare Trust and the Pre-School Learning Alliance differs. They are more cynical of the need for webcams in the first place. Michael Freeman, director of training and quality at the Pre-School Learning Alliance feels that any need for webcams to be installed shows a breakdown of trust. But Michelle, like many other worried parents, is convinced the advantage of webcams is that they act as a deterrent against unacceptable behaviour by nursery staff. Although she has enjoyed a good relationship with Little Dreams, the fact that the nursery manager installed the webcam provided the finishing touch. "The webcam confirms what I feel about the nursery. I know that they have nothing to hide", says Michelle. Her need for this confirmation was perhaps driven by previous experience. Before turning to Little Dreams Michelle used another nursery about which she became increasingly uneasy, "There seemed to be accident reports every day. My child would come home with scrapes that hadn't been attended to which made me worry about the care he was receiving." The manager of this nursery would not entertain the idea of installing webcams.

Providing parents with 'peace of mind' was the objective of webcams for Bindi Dalal, owner of Little Dreams. The system was installed in July because "we wanted parents to see what we do here" explains Bindi. "There has been a lot of media coverage about nurseries but we have nothing to hide so parents are welcome to view at any time." And this of course is a great selling point - especially for new settings that have no track record or good reputation to rely upon when trying to fill spaces.

Evelyn Halsall now uses Kingscliffe Day Nursery in Loughborough for her child after a similar experience to Michelle. Her reaction to webcams being introduced was 'brilliant - modern technology at itís best!' and says that if she was starting the process of choosing a nursery again she would definitely favour a nursery that has webcams - 'it's a major, major plus'.

Installing a webcam system
Finding a company that suits your needs can take time. "I had decided to use webcams from the time I first opened Little Dreams in June 2003," Bindi admits "but it took time to find a company to provide what I wanted."

Parent power
Some parents agree and are uncomfortable with the thought that their child is on camera. One concerned father in Gwent wondered what impact it would have on his child to know that she could be seen at any time. He also felt nervous about the effect it would have on staff, believing that people are bound to behave differently when they know they are being watched. He worried that the long term effects might be that staff become so 'professional' that they lose that 'loving touch' that is so vital when working with young children.

However, parents who use webcams say that it improves the relationship with staff as it gives them a greater understanding of the work that staff in nurseries do. "I couldn't believe how busy the staff are" exclaims Evelyn Halsall, "I certainly have more admiration for them." She explains that her relationship with staff is now more friendly and relaxed, "Staff used to go through a book with me every day to say what my child had done but now that formal process is reduced because I've seen it".

Security issues
A nursery in Northampton uses CCTV cameras for these reasons. The nursery owner took over the nursery two years ago, prior to this there had been an allegation against a member of staff by a parent. Ofsted, the police and social services were involved in the case and the member of staff was cleared of wrongdoing. Unfortunately, the parent is still being persistent in their claims. The issue of whether or not to install CCTV cameras was discussed with staff and it was decided that the internal system would help to protect staff from false accusations, and cameras installed outside the nursery would provide evidence of any inappropriate behaviour by parents.

NurseryCam was able to provide suitable CCTV coverage with the option of including webcams at some future point.

Pulling power
Mrs Cross, on the other hand, headteacher of the privately owned Sunny Bank School and Sunny Bees Nursery in Burnley, is proud to be the first in the country to introduce webcams not just in the nursery, but throughout the primary school! She makes no bones about it - it is being used as a marketing point to enrol more children but Mrs Cross is absolutely convinced of the value of webcams: for the security of everyone in the school; the added security when the school is shut; but most especially for the parents. "It's a brilliant idea for parents to be able to watch, especially if they have had to leave their little one upset." A comment that was made by all the parents we spoke to, that they appreciated being able to log on when they got to work just to reassure themselves that their child had settle down and was now happy. Mrs Cross also pointed out the benefits to split families, or fathers or mothers who work away from home for parts of the week. The access to webcams allows them to see their children on a regular basis and have an understanding of what is going on in their childrenís daily routines. Other parents have commented that grandparents love it too!

But could it all backfire? Evelyn Halsall, who is very positive about the use of webcams and has even more admiration for the staff that work in the nursery now that she can see exactly how hard they work, admits that it made her aware that her child is not getting the valuable one-to-one attention that he gets at home: "It made me realise that I wouldn't want my child there full time".