Social workers target poor parents at budget supermarkets, urging them to put their toddlers in nurseries

Daily Mail (UK) 1st February 2008

Parents who shop in budget supermarkets and appear poorly dressed have been approached in the street and urged to put their toddlers in childcare. Social workers trawled shopping centres to fill places in a controversial Government scheme which grants free nursery places to disadvantaged two-year-olds. Ministers hope the scheme will persuade more mothers back to work. They also claim it will give poor children a better start in life, closing the social class gap in education. But critics voiced outrage yesterday at “offensive” tactics used in up to 32 local authority areas to entice parents to take part.

An official report on the initiative revealed that outreach workersrepeatedly knocked on doors to target families who take “a lot of persuading” on the benefits of nursery education. They also stopped parents in the street after assessing their appearance or shopping habits for signs they fit the criteria for the scheme because they are on benefits or low wages. Some parents who were waylaid as they emerged from shops or post offices were asked sensitive questions about their household income. Many took offence, forcing the workers to operate in pairs for safety.

The report also reveals the scheme was jeopardised by the refusal of many parents to take up the free nursery places. They told social workers they believed two-year-olds were too young for institutional care and preferred to bring up their children at home.