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August 25, 2017 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Here’s a piece on daycare (Herald Scotland, 8/23/17). Its author, Shona Craven writes as if she’s dead certain about every assertion she makes despite the fact that they often contradict each other. Plus, she clearly believes that parents are wrong for calculating the costs of daycare before deciding to use it or not. More importantly, despite her topic being daycare, she apparently knows none of the pertinent science on it.

Craven seems to have been spurred to write by a Bank of Scotland analysis of childcare costs and the decision by the Scottish government to exempt daycare facilities from business taxes. She seems offended by the fact that daycare is a business with costs that families need to consider in deciding how much paid work to do and how much at-home-with-Junior time to spend.

We learned this week that on average these family members save parents £3,000 a year in childcare costs – a significant 13 per cent of the average gross Scottish salary. But of what actual value is this knowledge? Who benefits when analysts from the Bank of Scotland coldly reduce hundreds of hours of family life to a matter of pounds and pence? For those parents with no support – whether due to geography, work, death, poor health or relationship breakdown – reading those figures probably felt like a kick in the teeth. For the parents who do benefit, at best it was a reminder of their good fortune, at worst a guilt trip. For those caring, it might have felt like an insult.

I very much doubt all of that. The bank isn’t in the business of making everyone feel good. It provided presumably accurate information about how much kinship care saves parents in lieu of daycare. My guess is that everyone except Craven viewed that for exactly what it is – information.

Despite an avalanche of evidence about the importance of early-years experiences, childcare in every form is increasingly framed as having one primary purpose: freeing up the child’s parents for work. And as long as junior is fed, watered and kept safe from harm, it often seems the priority is to find care at the lowest possible price, to avoid precious income being “swallowed up”.

And yet that’s what it is. Craven doesn’t like it, but daycare exists to facilitate parents working and earning. Period. If it weren’t for that need, daycare would barely exist. After all, most parents (mothers particularly) would prefer to care for their children themselves and rightly so. Overwhelmingly, they do a better job of it than anyone else and the children are far happier with Daddy and Mommy than with strangers.

Moreover, Craven clearly resents the calculations required of parents who must work and raise their families. In what way does she imagine that their precious income isn’t “swallowed up” by paying for daycare? It is. And every responsible parent looks at the cost of daycare and how much the second-earning parent brings home, calculates the difference and makes a call about whether the anguish to the child and the parents is worth that difference. Should they not?

It’s little enough, certainly, but at least Craven understands that grandparental care is better than anything daycare facilities have to offer.

Best of all is the childcare that comes completely free, because it’s being provided by a grandparent or other relative. ..

Grandparents don’t merely “provide childcare” for their grandchildren – they provide love too. The average granny or grandpa takes a keen interest in every milestone achieved, every picture painted, every certificate earned. There are days out, special treats, private jokes and public displays of affection. This is not to suggest professional childcare workers are uncaring or uninvolved with their young charges, but they cannot possibly have the same level of personal investment in every boy and girl with whom they spend a few half-days a week. An hour at nursery is qualitatively different to an hour at granny’s house, and the value of each is not captured by cash sums.

Unfortunately, she gives no indication that she understands why that is. Considerable science done in the U.S. demonstrates that daycare, particularly for very young children, elevates levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, indicating angst on the child’s part. Indeed, daycare for young children is associated with mental and emotional health deficits both during childhood and later in life. See my pieces on that here and here.

So kids who go to Grandma’s house while Mommy and Daddy go off to work enter a familiar environment with a familiar and loving person. My guess is that that affects cortisol levels far less than does daycare.

Of course no article on parents and daycare would be complete without the complaint that it’s all just a part of WOW, the War on Women.

The notion of childcare fees swallowing up wages is premised on the assumption that just about every form of work should pay better than the work of looking after young children. It’s rooted in sexism: those providing paid childcare are overwhelmingly female, and historically this work has not been valued, whereas the labour of unskilled and semi-skilled men has.

That’s a whole lot of wrong in a few words. That childcare costs swallow up wages isn’t a “notion,” it’s a fact. Parse it any way you like, but if one parent stays home to care for the kids, she’s not earning to support the family. If she goes off to work, someone has to care for them, and, lacking qualified relatives, that “someone” is usually a daycare worker. And that worker isn’t working for free. Again, Craven seems to think that parents should just ignore the cost of daycare, not pay attention to what they earn and not make a family budget. All those things are necessary and every responsible adult does them.

Of course it may be that Craven thinks that Scottish parents are so wealthy that cost is no object.

The accepted wisdom that it’s not worth working if most of the money earned will have to fund childcare – as opposed to the mortgage on a fancy house, or the running of two cars, or luxury holidays – is premised on the belief that time spent in nursery is of no benefit to the child, and leisure time (a break from both paid work and unpaid supervision of children) is of no benefit to the parent.

I suspect it’ll come as quite a surprise to most Scots that they all live in “fancy” houses, own two cars and take “luxury holidays.” And of course, Craven’s idea that what daycare offers those parents is “leisure time” is nonsense. No, as she herself noted earlier on, parents use daycare so one can go to work who otherwise wouldn’t. Working for a living isn’t “leisure time,” but Craven believes it is. She does so because she doesn’t understand the basics of why people put their kids in daycare. She thinks all Scots are rich enough to not have to concern themselves about what daycare costs. That of course is purest drivel.

It is now assumed that decision-making about the use of paid childcare is guided not by the best interests of the child or even the desires of the parents, but by a calculation of the most profitable investment of labour.

Hmm. And who is it who’s assuming that? Craven offers not a hint, for the perfectly good reason that she hasn’t a clue. Again, most parents are positively riveted on what’s best for their children. But the reality of the world often requires both parents to contribute to the family’s income. Craven doesn’t believe it, but it’s true. So they try their best to balance the family’s need for money with the child’s need for their care. It can be a terribly difficult decision. Craven belittles parents who are forced to make it by assuming that the costs of daycare don’t matter.

It’s a shameful performance on her part, insulting to the countless loving, caring Scottish parents who, despite everything, have to balance their love for their children with their need to earn a living. Maybe Craven should have asked some of them for their thoughts. I’d put money on them being head and shoulders better than hers.

 

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