Stuff that matters

The parents of a baby who died after choking while at nursery have revealed they are expecting another little boy, due in January.

Zoe and Lewis Steeper faced every parent’s worst nightmare when their nine-month-old son Oliver stopped breathing while eating at pre-school.

A police investigation into the incident at Jelly Beans Day Nursery near Ashford, Kent is ongoing and there have so far been no charges.

The Steepers have launched a petition to try and stop a government proposal to increase the number of children each member of nursery staff has to look after.

And they said they are to welcome their second son in January, as swimming teacher Zoe, 32, is 26 weeks pregnant.

Surveyor Lewis, 37, said: “Oliver was our first, and honestly the best baby you could ever have wished for…he was just perfect.

“It’s a strange feeling, knowing the new baby will probably look and sound the same as Oli.

“We are just happy we have been given another chance.”

And speaking of their bid to prevent changes that would see nursery staff looking after more kids, Lewis added: “After losing Oliver in an early years setting, we feel it’s our duty now to protect other children from people who are trying to overhaul the sector.

“These are members of parliament who will never put their own children into a local nursery because of their wealth and privileges; who simply don’t live in the real world with the rest of us do and don’t bat an eyelid at the cost of childcare.”

Oliver began choking while at his nursery in Kingsnorth on September 23 and passed away in hospital six days later.

After he died in his parents’ arms, his dad said: “We will never forget you little man, you will be in our hearts forever and be by our sides forever.”

The nursery shut following Oliver’s death after Ofsted found “serious safeguarding issues”.

Investigations into exactly what happened are still ongoing.

Meanwhile, the government has announced it wants to help cut the cost of childcare for parents by changing the ratio of adults to children.

At the moment there should be one adult for every three children aged under two and one for every four aged two.

But the plan to increase the number of kids per adult carer has been criticised by experts who say it could endanger children’s lives.

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Early Years Alliance, said that scrapping early years ratios completely would be “devastating” for the sector and for families.

He added that “it will greatly increase safeguarding concerns and sacrifice safety in settings”, which “cannot justify any benefits the government may be imagining”.

The Steepers launched their petition in May and it hit 100,000 signatures on the year-anniversary of Oliver’s death.

It now has almost 106,000 names.

It pleads with the government not to mess with staff ratios, saying: “There are surely better ways to reduce the cost of living – potentially endangering children in trusted care is not how it should be done.”

Lewis, who has set up a foundation with Zoe in their son’s memory, added: “The police investigation into Oliver’s death is still ongoing but going through the pain and heartache of losing your only child just as he was starting to say ‘da da’ is nothing short of inhumane.

“We have spent many days and nights sobbing, wishing we could change things, wishing he was still here and this was just some form of dream and we’d wake up soon.”

“Unfortunately we both know this isn’t a dream, and we now feel we have a duty after being angered by the Prime Minister’s suggestions of lowering the adult to child ratio.

“This will only endanger children and place them at higher risk and have a severe effect on staff members’ mental health.

“After speaking with many early years staff members in the last few days, a great number of those have left the industry as they felt they couldn’t protect children.”

A Kent Police spokesman said: “Enquiries are ongoing.”