Ending Misperceptions about Child Care: "It's Bad for Kids" and Other Myths

Article excerpt

The current debate over child care policy in Canada is plagued by a number of old myths which get in the way of a reasonable discussion on policy options. Some may be familiar to you: it's bad for kids; it's too expensive; it contributes to the breakdown of the traditional family unit (or it's simply anti-family); it discriminates against women who prefer to stay home; it encourages and rewards parental irresponsibility; and it erodes parental choice. We can now add a new myth to the list: the Conservative government has a universal child care plan ($100/month) that offers choice to parents.

It is time to put these myths to rest so that we can have a national discussion based upon what the evidence-based research on child care actually says.1

Myth #1: Non-parental child care is bad for kids.

Fact: Over 30 years of research in many countries including Canada have determined that good quality child care programs have very positive short- and long-term effects on child development, school readiness and school success. This is even more pronounced with children who are vulnerable or have special needs.

Background:

* A groundbreaking (and ongoing) National Institute for Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) study found that high quality, non-parental care generally has important positive effects on children from all backgrounds up to age three and beyond.

* A comprehensive survey of child development research by the U.S. National Research Council and Institute of Medicine concludes that high quality child care "is associated with outcomes that all parents want to see in their children, ranging from co-operation with adults to the ability to initiate and sustain positive exchanges with peers, to early competence in math and reading."

* While not a silver bullet that can cure all problems, high quality child care is particularly beneficial for vulnerable children. However, the quality of child care programs is inconsistent and sometimes mediocre. No child deserves the latter. Public policy and funding that supports the improvement to the quality of all child care programs would have strong positive effects on the fives of most children. While most children grow up within a positive family environment that stimulates their development, some family situations are complex and require a number of forms of family support over and above child care (e.g. financial assistance, parenting programs).

* Public policy should be directed at making work and family more compatible by increasing the support for families with very young children, by making good quality child care more affordable to families, and by making maternity/parental benefits and leave available to families who are currently ineligible.

Myth #2: Non-parental (or "institutionalized" or "government-run") child care is anti-family.

Fact: Non-parental child care is a family support program that supplements the care children receive in their families, but does not substitute for the family. In addition to supporting parents to work, study or volunteer in their communities, these supports include programs and information on child health and nutrition; screening for developmental delays and interventions for children with special needs. Good quality child care programs help families learn more about parenting, and become an essential part of the family's extended community.

Background:

* Good child care matters but good parents matter even more; studies show that what parents do is critically important to child outcomes.

* Parents may want to buy high quality care but face income constraints that make this impossible. Thus, good child care may be an economically efficient investment in children but many parents do not have the funds to finance this investment, even when they see that it would be desirable.

* Because most parents with young children are already employed, it is hard to argue that there will be significant inefficiency associated with programs that encourage parents to continue and strengthen their attachment to the labour force. …