Child care mythmaking

October 22, 1997|By Mona Charen

FOLLOWING UP on last summer's White House conference on early childhood development, the Clinton administration this week is hosting what it is pleased to call the "first ever" White House conference on child care.

It's not the first ever. The Nixon administration hosted just such conference in 1970 (facts always seem to trip up this crowd).

What the administration has in mind is fairly predictable, based on last summer's early childhood development conference. Then, experts offered testimony about the key brain development that occurs between birth and the age of 3 years.

Everyone stressed how crucial it is that babies and toddlers get lots of stimulation during this period to maximize their intelligence and social growth. Yet, all of the participants stayed away from the obvious policy implications of the research -- namely, that babies and toddlers are best off in the care of their parents.

The assumption is that institutional child care, even for very young children, is a good thing (when done properly).

That is not the way most parents see it.

According to the 1994 Census report "Who's Minding the Kids?" only 13 percent of preschool children are in center-based care.

Sixty-one percent are cared for by their mothers (4 percent of whom also have home-based businesses), fathers or both mothers and fathers in tag-team arrangements. Twelve percent are looked after by grandparents or other relatives, 9 percent by neighbors, and 3 percent by nannies.

In other words, people are voting with their feet, and their preference is not for institutional care.

As well it should not be. Dr. Stanley Greenspan, a respected psychiatrist, has listed a number of reasons that institutional child care is bad for kids. Among his reason are a lack of continuity with one caregiver and a lack of prolonged interactions between child and adult.

Fully 80 percent of existing child-care centers, Dr. Greenspan asserts, are "inadequate."

Presidential aide Rahm Emanuel may speak of "access, affordability and safety," but affordability is simply not possible -- not if the aim is "quality care." Quality costs money. And even the finest day-care centers are not as good as the average mother.

Many families cannot afford to have one parent stay at home. But fewer than the propagandists would have us believe.

The average income of two-parent couples where the mother stays at home is $35,876, which is about $15,000 less than families with children in which the husband and wife are both employed.

American families are creative. Though we hear endless calls for more and better child care, 66.7 percent of mothers with children under age 6 are full-time mothers or are employed part-time. They are not crying out for more institutional child care.

They do need tax breaks, flex-time, work-at-home options, telecommuting and job-sharing.

The notion of a child care "crisis" is a myth. We now have expert testimony like that of Dr. Greenspan and the other experts cited by the Clintons themselves to bolster the common-sense intuition that parents are the best guardians of young children.

Mona Charen writes a syndicated column.

Pub Date: 10/22/97

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