Commonsense seems to count for little these days. Instead, an army of “experts” are telling us how to best run our lives. Consider the following: Staff at day care centres do a much better job of minding young children than their grandparents or relatives. That is the startling finding of a new study conducted in NSW. The study claims that not only do children thrive in formal day care but they are harmed by informal day care (grandparents, relatives, friends, churches, neighbors, etc.). The study, by Linda Harrison of Charles Sturt University and Judy Ungerer of Macquarie University, says children looked after in informal child care are likely to fare less well academically and socially. A nine-year study of 127 children found that kids do not cope as well in the first year of school if minded by friends or relatives.
On the other hand, the study purports that children suffer no detrimental effects while in formal day care. The researchers recommend that informal carers, such as grandparents, be accredited before being allowed to look after children.
A number of issues arise with such findings. The first concerns the role of the media. One can learn a lot about the agendas of sections of the media by the selection and coverage of certain news items. This story first appeared in The Australian in early May on page one. Even though major studies have emerged on a regular basis over the years demonstrating the harmful effects of formal day care on young children, I do not recall any of these studies making it onto page one of The Australian, or any other newspaper for that matter. Yet when a study purporting to give the opposite conclusion (with quite a small sample group) emerges, there it is on page one, paraded for all the world to see.
Moreover, if a study questioning formal day care were to appear, in most newspapers there would be the mandatory comments from a half-dozen pro-child care spokespersons, criticising the study. Yet in this article not one voice was heard giving the other side of the story. Perhaps some newspapers should more accurately be called views-papers.
As for the study itself, a number of questions arise. How were the children assessed? What control groups were used? Was the sample sufficiently large? What children were included?
Other deeper questions emerge. The headline in The Australian read, “Informal daycare harms development”. One is tempted to ask, “What next?” Perhaps a study which says “Parenting harms children”? After all, most parents haven’t had formal training in parenting, so let’s allow government bureaucrats, who really know what’s best for our kids, to raise them instead. That in effect is the thrust of this current study. Grandma just isn’t good enough, we are being told, so bring in the experts. If present trends continue, licensing parents may be next. Indeed, the idea of making adults obtain licenses to parent has already been proposed.
And if nana needs to be accredited, who will do the accrediting? Some group of childless feminists in a government bureaucracy? And what will the regulations be? One recalls just 6 years ago the then family Minister Rosemary Crowley advocating 52 guidelines for child-care accreditation. These included banning Christmas carols (we don’t want to offend anyone in these politically correct days) and discouraging boys from playing with tanks, and girls from dolls (we don’t want our little kids to grow up being sexist, do we?).
What rules and regulations will grandpa or the next door neighbour have to follow before they can look after little Bobby? Will bureaucrats or police step in to make sure your friend or auntie is doing things according to government plan? Will in-laws be penalised if they are found to be reading Bible stories to little Sarah or engage in other politically incorrect behaviours? Bureaucrats will love it. The Nanny State will continue to grow. And parents will find their job all the more difficult.
The point is, most relatives do a good job of caring for children. Indeed, it is quite interesting to note that in a 1996 survey conducted of early child care students with experience in day care at Macquarie University, not one student said they would put their own baby into formal day care. Not one!
Grandparents are far and away the main source of informal care. One would think that the years of experience they have had with their own children would make them well qualified to look after their own grandchildren. I personally have never used formal day care. Most times a wonderful set of in-laws meet our needs, or a neighbour or friend. And my children thrive in such situations. The grandparents are constantly doing projects with my sons, taking them on outings, reading to them, helping them with homework, teaching them new things, and so on. What formal day care centre will give them all that?
Plus my in-laws provide my young children with something day care workers cannot provide: real love, commitment and attention. Children need the constant, one to one interaction with parents or other close loved ones. Day care centres, no matter how professional and well staffed, just cannot provide the warmth, intimacy, love and commitment that a parent or relative can provide.
True, not every child has access to an extended family. But surely parents can find helpful friends or neighbours to help out. A trusted close friend is often to be preferred to a complete stranger.
All of this is not to argue that parents should not use formal day care if they so choose. But we do not need academics and bureaucrats to tell us how to best raise our own kids. If a parent chooses formal day care, fine. But if a parent prefers a relative or friend, they should have the freedom to do so without facing a host of government regulations.