Historically there have been three strands of policy concerning provision for young children. Nursery education has traditionally been provided for three and four-year-olds as a free, part-time, school based service provided by qualified teachers, and is regulated by education legislation. Childcare for working parents is a full-time care service for children 0–5 to cover working hours, provided by nursery nurses or unqualified care staff in a variety of private settings including domestic settings; finding and paying for this service has until now been the responsibility of parents. Childcare is subject to the 1989 Children Act and the regulation is carried out by social services departments. Welfare care for vulnerable children or children in need is provided for young children aged 0–5 referred by social workers to local authority social services or voluntary run day nurseries or family centres, and also regulated under the terms of the Children Act. All these policy strands are now under review by the government.
There are a number of local authorities, voluntary organisations and private firms who have attempted to provide nurseries which combine all three strands of nursery education, childcare and welfare for vulnerable children. This article draws on case study research carried out in 1995–97 on five such innovative integrated nurseries. The findings suggest that there are very different kinds of practices with children which go on in nursery education, childcare and welfare settings, and that these practices tend to persist even when the functions of the institution are broadened. The article concludes that a more fundamental analysis of daily practice in nurseries is necessary to underpin any policy changes.