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Bird's Blog

Poetry, musings, observations, commentary, rants, confessions...and who knows what else!

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Location: San Francisco Bay Area

Teacher, writer, poet, grandmother, lover, wine-drinker, chocolate eater, beach comber, hiker, traveler, Giants fan, San Franciscan. All work on this blog is copyrighted material.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Child Care and The Pop Media News Analysis

The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) released its study on early childhood day care centers this week, and the pop media is having a field day. Morning DJs and talk-show radio hosts have taken a trauma & drama approach – bemoaning the horrors of day care centers while romanticizing the life of stay-at-home moms and exaggerating and demonizing the normal behaviors of children who indeed must be socialized. Children do not spring forth from the womb with an automatic understanding of the norms and values of the culture to which they are born. Yes, proper behavior is socially-constructed and varies from society to society. And apparently, day-care centers are hopelessly inept at conveying our society’s cultural norms for child behavior.

Clearly then, if day-care centers are so horrific, women should forego work and stay home with the children. Yes, if only women would do their duty and stay home – all would be well.

How about examining the quality of the day care centers instead? The study itself points out some of the benefits of day care, as well as how the high child-to-adult ratio and lack of skilled, trained personnel affects the increase in disruptive behavior.

The study authors suggested that the correlation between center care and problem behaviors could be due to the fact that center-based child care providers often lack the training, as well as the time, to address behavior problems. For example, center-based child care providers may not be able to provide sufficient adult attention or guidance to address problems that may emerge when groups of young children are together, such as how to resolve conflicts over toys or activities.

Perhaps we should improve the quality of care at day care centers. You know – set higher standards, demand a higher level of training and education for day-care providers, mandate a lower child-to-adult ratio, provide more federal, state, and local funds for quality day-care centers, and pay day-care providers more.

I’ll be the first to admit that my gut instinct tells me that children are better off at home, in the care of a loving parent(s). Of course, there are dangers with that approach as well – the primary care-giver becomes larger than life and there’s no guarantee that a parent is better-equipped to deal with the vagaries of child-rearing than day-care providers (indeed, perhaps on the whole the day-care providers, many of whom have more experience and training than parents, would make superior care-givers – if they weren’t burdened by that high child-to-adult ratio and were paid a wage that allowed them to be financially stable).

I preferred to stay home with my children when possible. With my son, as a single parent, I took a sabbatical from work for the first three months – until financial need drove me back into the workplace. And I’ll admit - though I did often enjoy the leisurely pace of staying home with an infant, I missed the adult world. Later, after I had remarried and my daughter was born, and in consultation with my former husband, I made the choice to stay home with my toddler son and infant daughter. Yes, I stayed home when my children were quite young, for the most part, although they both spent some time first with private babysitters, and then in preschools as I went to school part-time. But my children’s hours in the custody of a care provider who was not a family member were minimal. I should add that my son has always been a behavioral problem and my daughter has not. Yet they spent the same amount of time with day-care providers.

But I was lucky when my children were young. At the time, I was a member of a privileged class – we had ample money to provide a rather high standard of living. Chalk it up to a husband who made big bucks.

Of course, what all the pop news media are missing is a thorough examination of the report. The pop media presents this report with myopic exaggeration, and as such, gives us yet another assault on women (why are we leaving our children in the hands of such horrible caregivers? What on earth is wrong with us? Oh – but I ask: what on earth is wrong with a society that so devalues its children, parents, and the family we cannot or will not provide a high-quality support system for parents and children?).

Yet the supposed scourge of day care centers actually has – according to the study - a minimum effect on our children (the risk of increased behavioral problems is only 1%). And, surprise, surprise, the impact of parents is the key factor in the behavior of children.

The effect was slight, and well within the normal range for healthy children, the researchers found. And as expected, parents’ guidance and their genes had by far the strongest influence on how children behaved.

Perhaps we should:

  • Improve our healthcare system so that pregnant women and children receive the quality health care all members of a just society deserve.
  • Improve the training and education of child-care providers and pay them not only a living-wage, but one which demonstrates with what high regard we hold their work.
  • Develop and implement ways to make the workplace friendlier to both mothers and fathers.
  • Encourage fathers to stay home with the children (which will require aggressively reducing the pay disparity between men and women so that women have a better shot at being the financial providers).





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Blogger Infinitesimal said...

Kids need their parents influence, but they also really need the influence of other kids in a setting away from their parents.

Ideally, I think a 50/50 split is best

3 days in daycare

2 weekdays and all weekend without it.

I was lead teacher in a daycare in the west village in new york and ran the school for a time, i also worked in about 5 or 6 other preschools in my life.

so i guess i am qualified to comment.

sometimes the teachers can be good influences, but on other occasions, i would say, parents, keep your kids at home!

so you are right, stricter standards are important. Rightnow anybody can be a preschool teacher. Oh, I think they finally implemented a background check, that was smart...

March 29, 2007 5:54 PM  
Blogger Riki D said...

I agree, Infintesimal. My daughter went to preschool 50-50. As you say, she got the best of both worlds. We were fortunate in that she had a good preschool. Not all kids are that lucky, however, and there may be cases in which they are better off at home, but that, as Bird says, is because the quality of the daycare center needs to be improved, not because there is an inherent problem with daycare itself.

March 29, 2007 10:51 PM  
Blogger onandon said...

The main idfference between 'good' day care and parental care is ...LOVE.
There is no substitute for loving the person you are caring for, whether it be aged care or child care. Since I have done both I can tell you it 'feels' different.

IF a child never ever believes it to be the centre of anyones world ever ( especially in the first 3 years) then it will be forever searching for that feeling. It is a vital part of the brain development to know you are the centre of someone elses universe, then to gradually, lovingly be taught you can't be.

There can never be enough 'quality' to (ful)fill the love.

March 30, 2007 10:25 PM  
Blogger Infinitesimal said...

that is an interesting point...

I agree for the most part.

I never liked to care for the 2 year olds, they were too young.

And some people put their kids in daycare at 18 months or less!

But most parents wait until 3 years old I think...

and a lot of daycare providers do love on the kids.

So it's a tough call, and I think it falls down to age. 3 is the youngest age I personally would consider parting with my own child, if I actually had one.

good point, good point.

however, some parents don't seem to really love their kids, and daycare is a place where they come to get the love.

Sadly, I have seen this.


March 31, 2007 11:03 AM  
Blogger Mrs. B said...

Thank you Bird, for bringing this up. I love that you take a balanced / educated (which=my opinion) approach. I do not understand why quality daycare/schooling is only available to the wealthy. It makes sense to have a well educated and cared for generation rising up as we are entering our "golden" years. I do not understand why we want the poor and ignorant to remain that way.

April 07, 2007 12:10 AM  

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