Marcia Segelstein has covered family issues for over 20 years as a producer for CBS News and as a columnist. She has written for FoxNews.com, “First Things,” “World Magazine,” and “Touchstone.” She is a Senior Editor for “SALVO” magazine.
New York Times columnist Ross Douthat recently scripted a fictional debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Putting aside its pure entertainment value (Douthat has Trump’s verbal tics down pat), the column, “Make Family Policy Great Again”, raised the hot-button issue of child care.
Clinton has vowed to dramatically expand federal funding for child care in the hopes of making sure “kids get the best possible start in life.” But, as W. Bradford Wilcox writes at National Review, science doesn’t back up Clinton’s underlying rationale for such programs. Referring to a recent piece in Family Studies, Wilcox writes that “when young children, especially infants, spend lots of time in child care, it poses behavioral and social risks, even when they are being cared for in high-quality centers.” A study funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development found that young children (age four and below) who spent more than 30 hours a week in non-maternal care were almost nine times as likely to exhibit behavioral problems such as aggression, defiance, and argumentativeness by age four. A Columbia University study found that children’s cognitive outcomes were worse in similar circumstances.
Politics aside, daycare is a tricky subject in and of itself. When I was a producer for CBS This Morning, we occasionally partnered with Parents magazine. One day I had lunch with the then-editor to discuss possible future projects. I suggested a series on the pros and cons of daycare. Barely was that word out of my mouth when she stopped me by saying that Parents magazine chose not to cover daycare “because parents suffer enough guilt already.” So no matter what the truth was about daycare, the magazine didn’t want to upset any working mommies out there. Parents’ potential guilt trumped children’s potential welfare. And of course there was the not small matter of selling magazines.
In a piece about daycare for Salvo Magazine, I interviewed May Saubier, author of the book, Doing Time: What It Really Means to Grow Up in Daycare. Saubier, who has a master’s degree in Special Education, worked for several years in high-quality daycare centers, with low adult-to-child ratios. Her book is a firsthand account of her experiences. Now a mother herself, Saubier told me that within two weeks of her first job in daycare she knew she would never use daycare for her own future children. “I can remember sitting in the middle of the room and taking it all in and thinking, ‘How can anyone think this is okay? Or think that this is a nice way to grow up?’ I was looking around me at many children who needed much more than all the nice women at the center could possibly give them.”
A recent Pew survey found that 60 percent of Americans believe “children are better off when a parent stays home to focus on the family.” That’s good news. It’s time to stop kidding ourselves that our children’s best hope lies in government-funded child care.
The answer isn’t to hide from the truth about daycare. It’s to find ways of making families – and the relationships within them – stronger.