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The Big Answer

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Childcare and Child Development

a book by NICHD Early Child Care Research Network, eds.

(our site's book review)

The NICHD is the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, established by Congress in 1962 to conduct and support research on topics related to the health of children, adults, families, and populations.

Near the end of this book on the results from the NICHD study of early childcare and youth development, a giant, objective research study on our nation’s childcare quality and how it affects child development, is the following statement:

“The culture of silence among scientists and professionals is this: We dare not inflict even more guilt upon parents, or ask that they consider forgoing much needed outside income or spending more of their limited economic resources to obtain better quality care. As a result, many people become paralyzed by the magnitude of reforming our nation's standards for care and the critical supports needed to educate, sustain, and monitor the child care system.”

The NICHD study finds that childcare is quite inadequate
The NICHD study finds that childcare is quite inadequate

In other words, since the study finds that childcare is quite inadequate, they are wondering if the wide publication of the essential findings of the research will have the perverse effect of getting parents and politicians to give up. The worry is that once they hear all this criticism of existing standards and the quality of publicly funded programs, such as subsidized child care for welfare-to-work families and Head Start and pre-K public school programs, this will lead to a total withdrawal of any public support for very low-income families or those with two working parents. I.e., those that need the most help and are already living paycheck to paycheck, and who count on these programs, will lose them and they’ll be pushed over the edge, leading to dire consequences for their families, their childcare, their future, and—most of all—their children.

From the 1970s to the 1990s good/excellent quality care went from 26% to 13% in centers
From the 1970s to the 1990s good/excellent quality care went from 26% to 13% in centers; MCs' caregiving costs (free) and gas for transportation (minimal) represent minimized economic expenditures which will be particularly appreciated as childcare costs rise and yet childcare center quality decreases

Parents usually try as hard as they can to get good care for their kids when they have to work. They often rely on relatives or neighbors, but sometimes must either pay for daycare or force their kids to be “latchkey kids”—home alone. The latter usually only happens if there is simply no money for childcare. It should be noted that low quality care can and does occur when relatives, neighbors, regulated and unregulated family child care homes, daycare centers, grandparents, mothers, or fathers do the childcare. However, a study by Galinsky, E., Howes, C., Kontos, S. & Shinn, M. (1994), The study of children in family child care and relative care: Highlights of findings. New York: Families and Work Institute, found that "The highest percentage of inadequate care took place, surprisingly, in relatives' homes and the lowest in regulated homes."

Various other studies find a variety of results, and sometimes the best educational experience is in daycare centers, but if the emotional wellbeing of the kids is the main criterion, kids being with their mothers usually rates highest.

The book asserts what is well-known in the sociological realm: “both historically and cross-culturally, the exclusive care of infants and young children by mothers is the exception rather than the rule.” Mothers being part of the care is the norm, but mothers doing exclusive care is exceptional. Nonmaternal child care has been around for as long as records have been kept, and it isn’t going away:

In 2010, according to the Census Bureau, 48 percent of children ages 0-4 with employed mothers were primarily cared for by a relative—their father, grandparent, sibling, other relative, or mother—while she worked. This is not statistically different from the percentages in 2005 and 2002. Twenty-four percent spent the most amount of time in a center-based arrangement (day care, nursery school, preschool, or Head Start). Fourteen percent were primarily cared for by a nonrelative in a home-based environment, such as a family day care provider, nanny, babysitter, or au pair. The rate of care by fathers was between 15 and 16 percent in 1985 and 1988, increased to 20 percent in 1991, and settled between 16 and 18 percent from 1993 to 2005. By 2010, the father-care rate was 19 percent.

By 2010, the father-care rate was 19 percent
By 2010, the father-care rate was 19 percent

The book says what happens in families determines children's early social and emotional development more than whether kids are cared for maternally or nonmaternally. The authors say that “we strongly believe that young children benefit from the love and care of many people beyond the immediate family home.” However, they point out that “child care in the United States is highly fragmented and erratic. This uncertain system of care is stressful for families and care providers alike, and inadequate to provide the desired and likely beneficial levels of support and continuity that children and families need.”

The books says that good caregiving by nonparents in childcare settings is rare. In the first three years of their lives, only twelve percent of the children studied received childcare that fit the definition of "highly characteristic" of good care! When extrapolated to the whole US, only nine percent of children are estimated to receive good care. However, at all ages, well over fifty percent of children get care that is either "very uncharacteristic" or "somewhat uncharacteristic" of good care. The authors consider this “shocking and intolerable.” These facts are well concealed from most parents and the general public. This finding warrants a call to action, the authors believe. Who could disagree?

This 'most childcare is lousy' finding warrants a call to action, the authors believe
This 'most childcare is lousy' finding warrants a call to action, the authors believe

The book shows that the study results show that bad care is harmful, and good care is beneficial, which we all knew—but now it has been proven. The authors end by saying bad childcare needs to be wiped out.

The book doesn’t say it, but the implications of all the depressing statistics aren’t just that we need to improve childcare and eliminate the need for both parents to work, allowing parents to care for their kids more often and in a less tired condition. The implications are that looking to the government to come to the rescue with massive amounts of funds to improve all this is silly. Even if the government wasn’t coping with the current economic downturn and record deficits as well as wars, there isn’t anywhere to get such cash infusions nor is there political will for this kind of social engineering even if we as a country had money to burn.

Depression rate in the U.S. in 2011
Depression rate in the U.S. in 2011

One implication leads to another: if no government help, then what is left? We’ve borrowed too much foreign money already, and there simply isn’t any other source of money.

One implication leads to another: if money will not be coming from any source, then what can we strategize to help us in its place?

Babysitting co-ops will help many parents to deal with childcare cost by eliminating it as they take turns doing caregiving. This is a great first step, and a step in the right direction as well. Died-in-the-wool conservative traditionalists as well as religious extremists of some types may prefer women to stay home and be moms while they get to have careers, but this is hardly fair to 21st century womankind! Shared caregiving responsibilities is the only fair way, unless one spouse truly wants to just caregive and the other truly wants to just work. Whatever blows their hair back!

Shared caregiving responsibilities is the only fair way to parent unless one parent wants to do it
Shared caregiving responsibilities is the only fair way to parent unless one parent wants to do it

But this is only a start. Can co-ops really offer the kind of interesting educational opportunities for kids that the better daycare centers and Montessori schools offer? Don’t our kids deserve a stimulating environment, and, better yet, the opportunity to make choices in such an environment? Will all the caregivers in these co-ops really be warm, loving people that will pay lots of sensitive attention to the kids and their feelings? This is very important, especially for babies and young children, as Leach, Bowlby, and most other experts assert.

Giving kids the opportunity to choose what to play with next, what to learn next, and who to play with next would be a great first step, but actually allowing kids to choose who will care for them is even better—like in an MC. Why is that important? Check out this page—you may be surprised: Why Register for an MC?. But what if the chosen caregiver wants to do something else that isn’t caregiving? A caregiver doing it for money like in a center, or because a co-op schedule says it’s their turn, in a babysitting co-op, or because a child wants him/her to—even though s/he isn’t into it currently—will sometimes give a very suboptimal caregiving experience to the child.

So even if co-ops are the right first start, that’s all they are. Just a step in the right direction. But is there a way to keep stepping in that direction and end up with free caregiving for not just kids but elders as well, and have it provide caregivers that really know and love the kids and that can offer interesting educational opportunities as well? Yes! The answer is here Why Register for an MC? and all over that website.

Registering for MC search and match
Registering for MC search and match