July 13, 2016 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
Not long ago I posted pieces here and here about the effects of daycare on kids, particularly very young ones, i.e. three years old and under. The analysis of existing studies demonstrated fairly convincingly that kids in daycare have higher levels of stress than those in parental care and that the effects of that stress are strongly associated with behavioral problems at least as late as their teen years. In short, arguments by people like Anne-Marie Slaughter and others for increased public subsidies for daycare should be looked at with caution at the very least.
That’s doubly true since increases in access to daycare look very much like yet another opportunity to deprive kids of their fathers. For too long we’ve encouraged mothers to marginalize fathers in the lives of their children and our increasingly dysfunctional society is the payoff for doing so. Easy access to daycare would only exacerbate an already serious problem. Once we come to a point at which we actively include fathers in all aspects of children’s lives and fathers understand that they’re not second-class citizens when it comes to their kids, then we can talk about the need for daycare. But not until then.
Now we have this article whose words will likely be interpreted by those already inclined to do so as yet another call for heavy government subsidies for daycare (New York Times, 7/12/16). My guess is that that’s the very reason it was published by the New York Times whose editors never met a governmental program they didn’t want to enlarge.
The thesis of the article is that daycare workers are mostly women, they’re poorly paid and therefore their children tend to be poor. That ironically means that they can’t afford to put their kids in daycare. And poorly-paid workers mean poor care being given to kids in their charge.
All of that is true enough. But when we combine the article I reported on earlier and this one, uncomfortable truths become apparent that the NYT piece fails to acknowledge, much less come to grips with.
Scientists established decades ago that the crucial first years of life, in the words of a 2015 National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine report, “provide a foundation on which later learning — and lifelong progress — is constructed.”
To NYT readers that probably means more and better daycare, but to readers of the previous article and the studies on which it’s based, it’s a red flag. If the first years of life are so important, shouldn’t we do our best for kids then?
But as the academy researchers concluded, “Adults who are underinformed, under-prepared, or subject to chronic stress themselves may contribute to children’s experiences of adversity and stress and undermine their development and learning.”
“You can’t separate the quality of children’s experiences from the knowledge, skills and well-being of early educators,” said Marcy Whitebook, director of the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment at the University of California, Berkeley.
And what kids tend to get in daycare is the care of people who are undertrained, underpaid and likely under stress due to living their own lives on the ragged edge of poverty. Indeed, the NYT article is illustrated by the story of Carmella Salinas who earns a bit over $12 per hour, 32 hours per week as a daycare worker. Salinas tries to support herself and her son on that pay. Meanwhile, her own stress contributes to the stress of the kids in her care.
Since we’re talking figures, recall that I reported in my previous two pieces that the average cost per child per year in daycare is about $19,000. Coincidentally, that’s almost exactly what Salinas earns. But of course she cares for more than one child at a time.
About two million caregivers look after 12 million children from newborns to 5-year-olds…
That’s an average of six kids per caregiver. If Salinas cares for six kids on average, each of whose parents pay the national average for daycare, that means Salinas’s employer receives about $114,000 per year but pays Salinas only about $19,000. Of course the employer must pay many other bills as well, including for liability insurance that I suspect doesn’t come cheaply. Still, someone looks to be making out like a bandit on the efforts of daycare workers.
One “solution” offered in the NYT article is to raise the pay of daycare workers. But of course that would lure more highly trained and educated job seekers into daycare who would then displace people like Salinas. Making people like her lose their jobs hardly seems like an answer to the daycare question.
The Berkeley researchers counter that the push to expand child care has come at the expense of the poorly paid women who do the work. “A major goal of early childhood services has been to relieve poverty among children, yet many of these same efforts continue to generate poverty in the predominantly female, ethnically and racially diverse early-childhood-education work force,” the report states.
Plus, paying daycare employees more would mean raising the price of daycare, which in turn would put it out of reach of more poor kids than is already the case.
If all this seems to be pointing in a single direction, I suspect it is. That direction is governmentally subsidized daycare. The article never mentions the subject, but, having read far too many paeans to the glories and necessity of state-paid child care, the NYT piece looks very much like grist for the same mill. I suspect NYT readers will get the message.
But let’s consider. What would government subsidies actually accomplish? First, they’d make daycare affordable for more parents. They’d do that by reimbursing licensed operators such-and-such an amount for each child they have in their care. So subsidies would have to (a) keep prices low while increasing the wages of workers or (b) lower prices while maintaining the cost of labor roughly where it is now.
In the first instance, the same kids would have access to daycare and their teachers would be better qualified than they are now. That, as we’ve already seen, would push women like Salinas out of their jobs, further impoverishing them and their children.
In the second, more kids could access daycare, but their teachers would be, in the words of the National Academy of Sciences, “under informed, under prepared or subject to chronic stress themselves” from a life close to the poverty line.
In short, neither option is a good one. Governmental subsidies can control the price of daycare, but they can’t solve the twin problems of impoverished daycare workers and badly-served children.
Needless to say, there is a solution and, this being the New York Times, it’s one that goes entirely unmentioned in the article. The solution is fathers. It’s keeping fathers in children’s lives. It’s educating everyone from their earliest years that it’s not OK for a father to walk out on his kids and it’s not OK for a mother to marginalize a father from his kids. It’s honoring fathers the way we honor mothers. It’s acknowledging the science that tells us that children do best with two parents in their lives. It’s honoring fathers who stay home to care for their children as much as we do mothers. It’s honoring mothers who work and earn as much as we do fathers. It’s changing family court practices so that judges do their best to maintain meaningful relationships between each parent and their children post-divorce. It’s stopping the pretense that single parenthood is a good enough alternative to two parents. It’s passing civil laws against paternity fraud and adoption fraud.
No society has ever lasted in any stable fashion by destroying families. We know this and yet that’s what we’re doing. The preoccupation with daycare at government expense is one small part of the societal dysfunction that claims that intact families are optional.
They’re not. Someone tell the Times.
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