The survey “The Price of the Cradle” lifts the veil on the mistreatment suffered by children in French private nurseries, testimonies from parents and early childhood professionals in support.

Crèches that give way to “situations of abuse”, in the words of the president of the early childhood sector committee, Élisabeth Laithier. This is the observation that is made in the book The price of the cradle to be published on Friday, September 8 by Seuil editions and in which Daphné Gastaldi and Mathieu Périsse relate the mistreatment of children in private crèches. No less than 200 testimonials from parents and employees or ex-employees of these private establishments served as material and made it possible to illustrate the shortcomings: meals rationed or even not distributed, timed care, reproachable hygiene… Practices already pointed out in the report of the General Inspectorate of Social Affairs (Igas) published in April 2023.

The accusations of ill-treatment concern the four leading groups in the private crèche market – Grandir (Les petits chaperons rouges), La Maison Bleue, Babilou, People

Behind this significant turnover hides a race for profitability denounced by the authors of the book, but also by early childhood professionals who have been or are caught in the gears. The objective of accommodating as many children as possible in establishments is set in several establishments according to several testimonies in the book: “It’s like an airplane. You have fixed charges, you have to fill up as much as possible”, explains moreover a former executive of one of the leading groups in the private crèche sector. To the point of practicing overbooking by welcoming more children than the quotas authorize, overloading early childhood professionals with work. The latter can in theory not have more than five young children at the same time, not more than eight if the children are older. However, testimonials from daycare workers who have had to watch more than a dozen children are not uncommon.

If overbooking is occasionally tolerated to respond to emergency situations, to needs that do not correspond to the slots of the crèches, it cannot compensate for holes in the timetable of the structures, recalls the journalist Mathieu Périsse on BFMTV : “We are at the limit of legality. What is supposed to be the exception becomes the operating rule to grab additional profitability points”.

This quest for profitability, in a sector where personal service is supposed to be a priority, can lead to risks “for the safety” of children. Several cases of physical abuse have been reported by parents who saw signs of beatings and injuries on their children. Marks caused by other children during a lack of supervision as suggested by a journalist from Europe 1, according to her own experience as a mother, or by crèche employees to the end in the worst case. The case of the crèche employee who had poisoned a young girl at the top in a Lyon establishment in June 2022, had drawn attention to the conditions of reception of children in private crèches.

The consumption of food or hygiene products is also closely watched in large groups and for some savings meals and diapers are rationed. He missed “between 3 and 5 meals, two days a week” for several months in a private daycare in Bouches-du-Rhône, we learn at the beginning of the book. As for the diapers, they are not always changed during the day, also reports the Europe 1 journalist.

The search for profitability goes so far as to weigh on the time and attention granted to each child. Health professionals have admitted to being timed when providing certain treatments or simply changing a diaper to improve efficiency. Others indicate that between the household chores and the number of children in their care, it is impossible to implement the educational and awakening activities promised by the private crèche groups.

Dysfunctions of this kind, some of which are responsible for mistreatment, would concern one in five crèches according to the General Directorate for Competition, Consumer Affairs and Fraud Prevention and in particular the micro-crèches of private groups. “It’s unforgivable, unspeakable, because we are addressing toddlers, defenseless beings”, launched the president of the early childhood sector committee on franceinfo on September 6, which enjoins the structures to say “stop” to the logic of profitability which endangers children.