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The Big Answer

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Who Cares For Our Children

a book by Valerie Polakow

(our site's book review)

The author says that: “If everyone is at the workplace, who will care for the children? The United States stands alone among all major industrialized countries in failing to provide paid parental leave, child care, and health care for all its children.” We seem to be obsessed with having the free marketplace control childcare access, which is ironic in that this means that families needing childcare help the most are the ones least able to afford it.

In 2006 the Bush administration gave tax breaks to the rich while it cut funds for education, training programs, social services, and health care. Antisocial acts such as this are always given such excuses as: it’s for the economy, families should be totally responsible to take care of their kids, we don’t want a welfare state, we can't afford these programs, and we already have enough programs (there are subsidized daycare programs but they are only about 10-14% funded, but if the rich weren’t getting all these tax breaks they could be fully funded). Polakow considers these Bush-era policies “far-reaching attacks on the public good.”

If the rich weren’t getting so many tax breaks, daycare programs could be fully funded instead of 10-14%
If the rich weren’t getting so many tax breaks, daycare programs could be fully funded instead of 10-14%

Who Cares For Our Children was written before the economic crisis that started in 2008. The U.S. was already shelling out vast sums of money to support military efforts in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The U.S. had an economic crisis in 2008 led by a derivatives market and subprime mortgage crisis, and a declining dollar value, although we were already in a recession, starting in December of 2007. This, then, is a terrible time for think tanks and sociologists to try to strong-arm politicians to try to allocate funds for social programs. Medicaid has already received cuts, and they're even talking about Medicare cuts—a sure sign of political desperation. But we cannot sustain our record deficits and foreign war expenditures indefinitely. Something has to give. Bottom line: we can expect decreased spending in social programs, not increased spending.

Uncle Sam will not be riding in on a white horse to save the day anytime soon
Uncle Sam will not be riding in on a white horse to save the day anytime soon

This book makes lots of good points about what we “should” do and how our social support systems compare poorly to other advanced nations. But since no amount of wishing or theorizing alleviates our current economic dilemma, we simply have to get real: the government will not be riding in on a white horse to save the day anytime soon. The inevitable ramification of our situation is that we’re on our own—Uncle Sam has more urgent things to do than help take care of the children of its citizens. Most of the conservatives have finally dropped their old refrain that it’s solely a family responsibility to provide whatever its members need, but nevertheless, it’s not up to the government to bail everyone out since the U.S. doesn’t believe in socialism like Europe seems to.

This elitist flapdoodle about it’s solely a family responsibility to provide whatever its members need turned out to be a political liability for Republicans, and that’s the main reason they dropped it. You're unlikely, in the near future, to hear a repeat of Bob Dole’s assertion during the 1996 presidential election “No, it doesn’t take a village to raise a child—it takes a FAMILY!” (He was taking a swipe at Hillary Clinton’s book It Takes a Village which he wanted to characterize as socialism gone wild. It is anything but that—it’s a fine book.)

Hillary Clinton’s book 'It Takes a Village' has the right idea, but leans a bit too far toward government help
Hillary Clinton’s book 'It Takes a Village' has the right idea, but leans a bit too far toward government help

The vast majority of young mothers are in the labor force, regardless of whether they are single, married, or cohabitating, and regardless of whether they have working mates. There's a huge childcare problem. The government cannot be much help even if it wants to. We need to fall back on clichés like the Lord helps him who helps himself.

The author says that: 29.1% of preschool children are cared for by their grandparents, and it’s over 30% for single, separated, divorced, and widowed mothers. This helps the situation a lot but only for a relatively small portion of the population.

Polakow reports that Schools of the 21st Century is a plan that uses the community school model. It uses schools as community hubs for childcare, after-school programs, and other family services. It’s a fine plan but requires federal, state, local, and/or private foundation funds . . . And there's that word again: funds. What funds are those? Some localities may be rich enough to implement such things, but such localities are few and far between. Polakow reports that 1,300 schools across the United States have some version of this at least somewhat implemented—one can only guess at how many will survive current social program defunding. Many liberal foundations and local donations are supporting these 1,300 schools, but they cannot support the huge number of such school programs our country needs. The word funds is the big sticking point—it will be a barrier to good child care for the foreseeable future. So what are the “non-funds” solutions?

The first, interim, solution is to establish babysitting co-ops anywhere there are unmet childcare needs, so that interested, concerned, adults who are also moms will care for each other’s kids. This knocks out most of the cost (it’s free care) and some of the inconvenience (local moms are closer than most centers would be). The care may likely be better than some or most centers and home care places and babysitting teens just because there's an unspoken understanding “you be good to my kid and I’ll be good to yours.” And moms become friends, creating sets of ears that will listen to feelings for moms, who may not get much of this essential emotional need.

Some financially struggling moms shudder and wince and turn their kids into latchkey kids
Some financially struggling moms shudder and wince and turn their kids into latchkey kids

Do moms really have much choice? Many simply cannot afford to pay for childcare. Some shudder and wince and turn their kids into latchkey kids. Some can happily find willing relatives, including competent elders, who can help for free. But others use either no-longer-competent elders who need care themselves or babysitters who merely coexist in the kid’s home while the parents are elsewhere (they're texting, blabbing to friends on phones, reading, doing schoolwork, and only care about the kid if a big problem comes up—they stick him in front of the TV to keep him out of their way: not any nurturing going on here).

There is a consensus among childcare experts that the best care includes warm, supportive interactions with caregivers in a safe, healthy, and stimulating environment, where early education and trusting relationships combine to support children's physical, emotional, social, and intellectual development. In high-quality childcare, caregivers have frequent, positive interactions with the children that include smiling, touching, holding, and speaking at the child's eye level; responding promptly to children's questions or requests; encourage children to be actively engaged in a variety of activities; and encourage children to talk about their experiences, feelings, and ideas. Caregivers listen attentively, ask open-ended questions, extend children's actions and verbalizations with more complex ideas or materials.

Moms, Dads or nannies may do this for the kids they care for, if they're exceptionally wise, but will a teenage babysitter do this? The best teenager may take childcare that seriously and act nurturing in the ways described above. But these teens will be few and far between. Others will be likely to do maintenance only—keeping kids out of mischief by use of TVs or junk food, etc.

MCs (microcommunities) will use the standards described above as standard operating procedures. But beyond those standards is one of their own—giving kids lots of choices, especially the choice about who will care for them. And when a caregiver is in a bad mood, stressed out, becomes ill, or is not the first choice of the child being cared for, the caregiver will contact another MC member after getting the child’s consent or the child will indicate who s/he wants as nurturer, and since there are other caregivers, there are always other choices. Even if an MC only had one child young enough to need a caregiver, there would always be at least one other designated caregiver and several other non-designated potential caregivers easy to contact. Moms and babysitting co-ops may fill kids’ needs reliably, but MCs are set up so they will do so. See Why Register for an MC?.

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