Mourning parents’ childcare petition to be debated in Parliament

A petition created by the parents of a boy who died in a nursery will be debated in Parliament after receiving more than 100,000 signatures.

Nine-month-old Oliver Steeper died in hospital in September last year after he choked on food at his nursery in Ashford, Kent, it was reported.

Zoe and Lewis Steeper’s petition calls on the Government to refuse to reduce existing child-adult childcare ratios, a move an early years organisation has labelled “damaging, backwards and devastating”.

They launched it due to concerns increasing the number of toddlers staff can care for could put children at risk.

A Government consultation has been looking at increasing the number of children that can be looked after by each staff member in early years settings, with proposals to change staff-to-child ratios from 1:4 to 1:5 for two-year-olds.

Ministers say this will give providers more flexibility in how they run their businesses while maintaining safety and quality of care.

Mrs Steeper told BBC News: “It’s not physically possible to keep as good an eye on five children as it is on four.

“To have more children under your care, knowing that they are literally the most precious thing that a parent can give to you, I can’t imagine that sense of responsibility.”

Mr Steeper added: “They’re already overstretched, underpaid, and overworked as it is.”

The circumstances of their son’s death is subject to an ongoing police investigation.

In a statement carried by the BBC, a Department for Education spokesperson said “our deepest sympathies are with Oliver Steeper’s family” and “the welfare and safety of children remains a priority”.

“We continue to explore options to improve the availability and affordability of childcare – no decisions have been taken,” the spokesperson added.

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Early Years Alliance, said: “It’s clear that the relaxation of ratios is a vital topic, close to the hearts of families and the early years sector alike. It is high time that it is given an opportunity to be discussed and debated in full.

“Our own research clearly shows it will not lower the cost of early years care and education and will instead sacrifice the quality and safety of the care and education children receive, but it seems this message is yet to filter through to Government.

“As such, we hope that the time given to the debate will wake MPs and policymakers up to the reality that any relaxation of ratios will be a damaging, backwards and devastating step for England’s early years sector.”