June 30, 2016 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
Along with pieces I’ve done on Anne-Marie Slaughter and others, I’ve briefly discussed the issue of daycare. I’ve done so because, whenever the question of mother/father equality in parenting comes up, people like Slaughter bring up what they regard as the need for massively subsidized daycare. Their argument is that children need care and if men and women are to be equal, both in the workplace and the nursery, the only solution is daycare that’s made affordable for all via taxpayer subsidies. That would allow Mom and Dad to go to work secure in the knowledge that little Andy or Jenny is being looked after by qualified people.
That sounds good enough on its face, but there are certain things Slaughter and her ilk never mention. For example, as of the 2010 census, there were over 20 million children five years old or under living in the United States. For another example, according to the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies, the average cost per year to place one child in daycare is a little under $19,000 (Boston Globe, 12/12/10). So if every child under six were in daycare and the entire cost were borne by taxpayers, the total bill would be a mind-bending and bankruptcy-courting $380B per year.
Of course not all children would be in daycare and certainly the federal government would require parents to bear some of the cost thereof. Still, the above calculations offer an idea of the scale of what Slaughter, et al, are talking about.
Apart from the cost, my concern has always been that, far from an effort to allow mothers to do more paid labor, widely available subsidized daycare would more likely serve as yet another end run around fathers’ rights to their children and children’s rights to their fathers. With ample and cheap daycare available, mothers and judges would have one more way to avoid father-child contact.
If those two reasons aren’t enough to be suspicious of any move toward more readily available daycare, here’s another that may well be as important as the other two (National Affairs, Summer, 2016). Contrary to what we’ve been led to believe, daycare, particularly for toddlers, may lead to serious personal problems in both the short and long terms.
One problem has always been that the research on daycare and children’s well-being is spotty and generally not well done.
These decisions are made all the more difficult by a lack of reliable research on daycare…
But when it comes to daycare — something that instinctively worries many parents — few are willing to take a hard look. The media, which seemingly report constantly on alarming new risks to children, rarely present the public with information from studies on the impact of daycare, especially when the findings suggest that daycare is associated with significant negative outcomes.
In short, for whatever reason, the news media seem to be invested in viewing daycare in a favorable light.
[In addition to others listed, a] deeper reason may be that the psychologists who study daycare have attempted to downplay or put a comforting spin on troubling findings. Just last year, an important study found that the culturally liberal outlook of almost all social psychologists had biased the studies and conclusions they reached. It is likely that a similar outlook, and in particular an unwillingness to present findings that may interfere with women's progress in the workplace, has similarly harmed the work of developmental psychologists regarding daycare.
What the authors call the “conventional wisdom” holds that babies derive no added benefit from spending all their time with a parent versus some of it in daycare. And there are studies to back that up. However, those studies tend to have a major flaw – they’re observational, i.e. based on the observations of children’s behavior by researchers conducting the studies. As is well known, that type of methodology is an open invitation to bias. Observers tend to see what they want to see and not what they don’t.
But now there are studies that are much more reliable and they paint an entirely different picture of children in daycare than we’ve previously had.
In 1997, Quebec introduced full-day kindergarten for all five-year-olds and heavily subsidized daycare for four-year-olds, so that parents only had to pay $5 per day out of pocket.
That change in policy did at least two things. It increased the number of Quebecois children in daycare by one-third and gave researchers a golden opportunity to study their outcomes.
The first award-winning study came in 2009. It concluded that,
We report striking evidence that children's outcomes have worsened since the program was introduced. We also find suggestive evidence that families we study became more stressed with the introduction of the program. This is manifested in increased aggressiveness and anxiety for the children; more hostile, less consistent parenting for the adults; and worse adult mental health and relationship satisfaction.
A second study, conducted in 2014, found daycare to be particularly detrimental to younger children.
These researchers (like others) uncovered widespread negative consequences, but they emphasized that earlier exposure to the child-care system resulted in larger problems. They wrote:
The estimates indicate that on average, children who gain access to subsidized child care at earlier ages experience significantly larger negative impacts on motor-social developmental scores, self-reported health status and behavioral outcomes including physical aggression and emotional anxiety.
Finally, a 2015 study found the detriments of daycare lasting well into children’s teen years.
While the researchers found that the introduction of the Quebec daycare program had "little impact on cognitive test scores," they found that the program's negative effects on non-cognitive skills appear to strongly persist into school years, and in many instances grow larger as children get older. Problems such as anxiety, aggression, and hyperactivity were worse in older children than younger ones exposed to the Quebec system. Moreover, there was "a worsening of both health and life satisfaction among those older youths exposed to the Quebec child care program."
The study's most startling discovery is that the program appears to have driven an increase in criminal behavior among teens.
All this casts considerable doubt on the wisdom of encouraging the widespread use of daycare. As so many parents seem to instinctually sense, good substitutes for parental care are few and far between. But it’s not just Anne-Marie Slaughter and her peers who are plumping for kids to spend more and more time away from their parents.
President Barack Obama and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton have both called for increasing government's financial support of paid child care, but it is not at all clear that increased use of child care would produce better results for children.
I’ll go into this in more detail tomorrow.
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