If you Google “love”, they will find you 2,170,000,000 references in 0.13 seconds. Clearly, it is not an under-used word. It has many meanings, ranging from sexual to spiritual love, love of friends, of family, of food, of football, and of course there is the Yorkshire “luv”, as a greeting even between strangers.

In child care, love used to appear in the titles of books – Bruno Bettelheim’s Love is not Enough in 1950 or John Bowlby’s Childcare and the Growth of Love in 1951, for example – but, until the publication of Keith White’s book, reviewed elsewhere in this issue, you would be hard pressed to find it in the titles – or even the contents – of recent child care books.

In the last two or three decades it has not been fashionable to talk about loving children. Why? Perhaps it has been because of the nasty undertones of paedophilia. Perhaps it has been because of an attempt to be professional and objective, not subjective and emotional. Perhaps it has been a spin-off of political correctness, where people have felt uneasy about using all sorts of language in case it offended someone. Perhaps it has been because of the social work case management approach of sorting problems and closing cases, focusing on the short-term rather than the whole of childhood and beyond.

Yet love is vital to child care, and the Christian Child Care Forum took a bold step in highlighting the importance of love to children and young people in a recent conference. A number of the papers from the day are published in this issue. Let us hope that the day was a turning point, and that people are able to talk more about the significance of love in helping children develop and grow into mature adults.

Why is love so important? In child care love respects people as individuals, whatever their age. Love puts the children’s interests first. Love listens to what people are saying as if they were the only people in the world, valuing their views. Love is patient and kind. Love does not easily become angry. Love looks at the strengths and the hopes of a child, and does not dwell only on the problems and weaknesses. Love perseveres and is long-suffering; love never gives up. At times, love has to be unconditional, to replicate the parenting which a child should have had, and it may be severely tested if the child is to experience the bonding s/he should have had as a little child. Love is not soppy or sloppy in child care; it can be demanding and tough, if that is what the child needs.

If child care workers know all the theories in the world, but do not love the children they care for, they will be ineffectual. Without love, all the assessments of children’s needs in the world are hot air. Without love, child care plans will have no fundamental positive impact on the development of a child or young person into a responsible fulfilled adult.

Does every relationship in child care need to be loving? Clearly, people relate to children in different ways and at different depths. Every child needs some people (usually close relatives) where the bonds are strong and deep, and for those where families have not provided that sort of support it is for child care workers, foster carers, teachers and perhaps social workers to make good the lack.

But even for those who have brief contacts with children, it is possible to make those encounters child-centred, to listen and to support. The great charismatic child care workers often had an impact on children with whom they must have had little individual contact. How we express our concern and love is another matter; some wear it on their sleeve and some conceal it, but the love still needs to be there. And we should not mix up loving with liking; some of the children who need love can be very unlovely in the way they behave.

It’s time to end the taboo, and to talk about love as the key to good child care.

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