child care


Times have changed since the 1800’s, and we haven’t.

Please stick with me as I present a crazy idea about children under six that will really make your head spin.  I will start with the recognition that what I’m going to propose is so extreme that at 73 I will never see it happen, but it should.  Discuss this idea among yourselves to see how close we can get to it.  Maybe my grandkids generation can pull it off, but the time to start movement toward it is now.

In the early days of America’s westward movement, Dad worked the land and Mom stayed home and raised the children.  It was decided that when the children reached about the age of six, they would enter a group learning environment called school.

In time, Dad found employment in the city, but Mom was still home, and the school system continued to be sufficient.  Then, before we knew it, many Moms were working outside the home.  We were introduced to a whole new set of problems that, as a society, we still haven’t come close to solving.  The need has been exacerbated by the explosion in the number of one-parent households.

Child care became a new industry.  Our children up to age nine or ten need a haven when they are not in school and no parents are home.  This industry took a wide variety of forms—grandma, Aunt Minnie, neighbors, child care centers, and homes where the resident has opened a child care business.  Some of these facilities are held to various standards, but many are not.

Today there are tens of thousands of people and places that offer one form of child care or another.  Some relatives and friends do it for free, but for most venues there is a charge.  The cost and quality of these options is all over the map, not only from format to format but within a given format.

Some places are safe, but the children are not exposed to developmental activities.  I call that a TV, a Pepsi, and a Twinkie.  Others are safe and offer age-appropriate activities and nutritional meals.  Some are neither safe nor developmental nor healthy.  Some facilities are licensed by the state and are held to specified standards.  A relative few are even accredited.  But anyone can open a rogue facility where they are held to no standards.

In most states, you can pay a year’s tuition at your state university for your 19-year-old for less than you can put your 2-year old into full-time day care at a licensed center for the same length of time.

Let me describe what we might do if we could start over with a clean sheet of paper and design a system to accommodate today’s lifestyle.  As you read it, it will become obvious that this is about as pie-in-the-sky as one can get, but please dream along with me for a few minutes.

  • Offer public school, on an optional basis, beginning at age six-months. Of course, the first few years would be the equivalent of child care and would include the age appropriate developmental activities and nutrition I mentioned earlier.  A parent who wants to stay home with his/her child would certainly be encouraged to do so.
  • Today’s mandatory rule of entering kindergarten at five or six would still be in place, but before that, parents would have a choice. Families in need of child care could exercise the in-school option and be certain that their children were receiving safe, clean, developmental care with nutritional meals.
  • The care givers would be educated in their profession so that the care would be reasonably consistent. Employment would require at least a two-year degree in child care or teaching.
  • Generate funds by charging those who can afford it for the pre-kindergarten years. Use a sliding scale much like the income tax rates. I suggest a range from free to the very low income people to full cost for those who have incomes over a certain amount.
  • Offer discounts for multiple children from the same family.

You say, “Gee, Doug, this makes so much sense, why don’t we just do it?”  Since the rules on teacher-to-child ratios are more stringent for younger children, the cost of public education would skyrocket–possibly even double.  Also, we would need an investment to expand our facilities to accommodate the increased number of children in the schools.  This “crazy”idea would cost billions more annually than today’s public education budget.  I suggest a combination of increases in some taxes and a redeployment of a big chunk of our bloated defense budget.  If we don’t turn education around, we will have nothing left to defend.

I mentioned my idea to a local school administrator.  Before I got the words out of my mouth, she screamed in protest that she already had too much to do, and this would make her job impossible.  That is the kind of short-sighted thinking that I’m afraid is all too prevalent in our school officials and the public in general.

When I mention the idea of public support of child care, the most common answer by empty-nested adults is, “I raised my kids without help from the government.  Let today’s parents do the same thing.”  Not only is it not the same world as the nineteenth century, it’s not even the same world as the sixties and seventies.  That answer is closely followed in frequency by, “They shouldn’t have had the kids if they can’t afford them.”  While there might be some truth in that in a vacuum, in reality it’s idiotic.  the kids are here.

Maybe we will never do anything as extreme as this.  We certainly aren’t ready now with our dysfunctional governments at all levels, our narrow- minded school officials, and an inflexible public.  This is an issue that won’t be solved by evolutionary actions.  We need to reinvent our education system from birth through sixth grade.  Failure to do so can only need to a continuing downward spiral in our national intellect.

Please let me know the name of any politician who will throw himself on his sword and present this idea to Congress.



Quality child care is not babysitting!  We can’t build a skyscraper the first week we start, but we can ruin it then. The same is true in the development of human beings. Let’s start with some assumptions:

  •  All children have one or more people at home that care for them and influence their development. The quality of that care and influence varies, but because the majority of a child’s waking hours are spent at home, this is usually the strongest influence.
  • As a child grows, she is increasingly exposed to other influences–extended family members, peers, education, entertainment, often religion, and child care. In the pre-school years when child care is a factor, it tends to occupy the second most hours and, thus, is the second greatest influence.

Now let’s consider these facts:

  • In 2011, according to the Census Bureau, 37% of child under 5 with working mothers are in some non-family child care for about 45 hours a week. This includes centers, homes, Head Start, and faith based settings. Once they start school, the percentage of care in these venues drops to 23% for about 15 to 20 hours a week. That’s 12.000,000 children who are strongly influenced by someone who is not a family member.
  • The median annual income for someone in the child care industry is $19,510. That is below poverty level for a household of three or more.
  • A child’s brain grows to 80% of its adult size by age three. During this time the wiring is connected based on use of the brain. She needs to be exposed to experiences for the brain to develop to its potential. If those experiences don’t happen, the opportunity to make those connections is greatly reduced forever.
  • Lifelong values are formed during these early years. The foundation will be laid as to whether he will be honest or devious; generous or selfish; industrious or lazy; kind or mean-spirited; trusting or defensive; and all of those other characteristics that make us who we are.

Can we draw some general conclusions for the future of those children for whom a child care setting is a significant part of their lives? I believe we can.

  • The low pay causes those are in charge of child care centers not to be able to be very selective in choosing those who work directly with the children. In many years of advocacy for quality child care, I observed that I could divide those who work in this field (mostly women) into three nearly equal segments.
    • Those with a passion for the work and the development of children to the point that the money isn’t a factor.
    • Those with a passion for the work but who need an income. These people would be compelled to leave if a better job in a different field were offered. This equates to high turnover.
    • Those who don’t particularly care about the kids and just need a job. McDonald’s or Walmart would be just as acceptable to them.
  • There is a stigma connected to this occupation in that it is not seen by the general population as important. Again the babysitter term comes into play. The industry doesn’t do much to help. Most centers insist on calling the care givers aides or some other unflattering term. They refuse to call them teachers because of some imagined flap from school teachers. If a mother and child encounter an “aide” at the super market, I guarantee the three-year-old knows she is her teacher.
  • There are standards in place for licensed centers and homes, but they are usually focused on safety, which is important, but they don’t address the quality of the program. And it is fairly common for a woman to give so-called child care in her home with no enforced standards of any kind. Some of these homes give excellent care, and some are unsafe and/or careless in their attention to the children. And there is no official way to tell one from the other.
  • Quality care includes a variety of developmental activities driven by the age of the children. This includes telling stories, singing songs, playing games, drawing pictures, and talking with the kids. It also includes nutritional meals and snacks. It isn’t necessary to insist that a child learn his multiplication tables or read the New York Times at age four. Those skills will come in time. What is important is that they are encouraged to use their imaginations, to interact socially with their peers, to develop emotionally, and to get exercise through play. A TV, a Pepsi, and a Twinkie do not constitute quality child care.

In the long term, good parenting is the biggest factor in a child’s development, but for those children who need continuing child care for 15 to 45 hours a week, that is the second biggest influence. These kids make up the generation that will have to clean up the mess we have made of our nation. They will need to address poverty, the mediocrity of our education system, climate change, the largest prison population in the world, the total mess that is our federal government where political selfishness trumps the good of the people every time, and more. 12,000,000 of them are at the mercy of care givers who are paid less than poverty level.

I always hate to lay out a problem without offering a solution. There are many facets to the answer, but we have to start with more money. I know of only two ways to infuse money into a deprived industry—more income or a redeployment of resources that are currently allocated elsewhere. That means increased taxes and money moved from other budget lines (especially our bloated defense budget) to child development. While we pour the biggest allocation of our money into defending against some imagined boogeyman, we are falling apart from the inside.

Now that I have already offended all of you Tea Party people, I have nothing to lose by straight talk. Let me say in the manner in which you state your opinions. You are wrong, and I am right.