Danish nurseries are in need of an overhaul, researcher finds

Politicians are taking new findings to heart, while others criticise the study for being too limited in scope

A new thesis by Aarhus-based researcher Ole Henrik Hansen indicates that children in Danish nurseries (vuggestuer) are being neglected and “numbed” due to a lack of interaction from the staff.

A lack of contact, and dismissive, indifferent behaviour is causing children as young as 10 months old to shut down emotionally, turning them into apathetic “zombie kids”, Hansen’s results found.

In addition to sending a survey to 40,000 nursery staff members, his data was gathered in the form of 8,000 observations and video recordings from nine nurseries in the Greater Copenhagen area.

Hansen, who is a Ph.D. scholar at Aarhus University, said that his findings illustrate the need for serious changes in the nation's nurseries, saying that a lack of contact could end up stunting the development of small children's brains.

“The Danish nurseries are so poor that a great number of them should close,” Hansen told Berlingske newspaper. “Pedagogic work is about doing something with a child, but in most institutions they don’t know what to do with the children most of the day. When I asked the leadership about it, they said they were just taking it day by day. We would never accept a school principal who said he was just taking it day by day when planning work. Nothing is happening in these nurseries.”

Yet, Hansen’s thesis was met almost immediately with criticism, especially because his observations and video samplings stem from only nine large nurseries in the Copenhagen area, leading to accusations that it was too narrow in scope.

Henning Pedersen, the chairman of Børne- og Ungdomspædagogernes Landsforbunds (BUPL) fagblad – a periodical publication for the daycare providers union – said that Hansen’s findings fly in the face of reality based on what he hears from the 55,000 members of the union.

“The nurseries are not perfect and we can do a lot better, but it has nothing to do with the competencies of our staff,” Pedersen said on the BUPL website. “The problems are due to half of the country's nursery staff being unskilled and there are also so few adults on staff that our members are forced to handle large groups of children alone.”

Politicians have previously said that the quality of the nurseries in Denmark needs to be improved. The children and education minister, Christine Antorini (Socialdemokraterne), is planning to present new recommendations on how to lift the quality level. Antorini also indicated that the government has raised 500 million kroner to hire 3,000 more staff members, something Hansen thinks is redundant.

“I almost became physically ill when I heard about the 500 million kroner for more staff. It’s all about organisation and leadership, so you could hire as much staff as you want without helping the situation," Hansen told Berlingske newspaper.

Many nursery helpers expressed the opinion that Hansen's findings are incomplete and lack a broader scope, but many did agree with him that the children may not be getting as much individual attention as they perhaps should be.

"I think it is true about organising of one's work, and sometimes one is assigned duties from the leadership that takes time from the core responsibilities, but I have never neglected the children or failed to show them care and attention," nursery employee Margit Jensen wrote on the BUPL Facebook page. "But I am under pressure, and it can be difficult to reach every child individually every day."

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