Encounter Books, 2003.
We are currently witnessing a grand social experiment, the results of which are not fully in as yet. But the data that is coming in is not good. We are allowing an entire generation of babies and young children to be raised by strangers. While adults might benefit from such arrangements, the well-being of children is being put at risk.
That is the sobering conclusion of a new volume by a research fellow at the Washington-based Family Research Council. With extensive documentation Robertson demonstrates how extended periods of day care are harming our children.
Robertson shows how feminist ideology, coupled with a sympathetic media and a cowardly academy, have managed to convince many that parenting is too important to be left to mere parents, that bureaucrats know better than mum and dad, and that day care centers are in fact good for children.
All three of these emphases are incorrect. But the growth of the day care industry is hard to counter. In the US, federal subsidies to the child care market rocketed from $2 billion in 1965 to $15 billion in 2000. And as more and more mothers enter the paid work force (most because of economic necessity, not personal preference) the day care juggernaut races onwards.
These social trends have resulted in a devaluing of motherhood, a weakening of the family unit, and most importantly, negative outcomes for our children. The harmful effects of extended periods of day care include higher rates of illness, greater chance of sexual abuse, higher rates of aggression, and greater risk of antisocial personality disorders.
The emotional, psychological and physical harm to children who spend lengthy amounts of time in day care has been well documented for some decades now. Yet the social science evidence is often attacked, covered up or ignored. Those who try to present the evidence are personally abused and vilified. It is just not politically correct to tell the truth on this issue.
The story of researcher Jay Belsky is a case in point. As an early proponent of day care, he was the darling of feminists and academia. But his research caused him to have a change of heart, and when he started to publish data showing negative consequences, he was furiously opposed.
Although he sought to be as cautious and restrained as possible, the child care establishment and its supporters distorted his findings and blackballed his research. He quickly became persona non grata in the eyes of many. Robertson carefully chronicles this and similar episodes in the day care wars.
Robertson reviews the studies which show how early day care harms the mother-infant bond which is so important in a child’s development. Of course defenders of day care put a different spin on the findings. Children in day care are not more aggressive, simply more “independent”. And they even try to say that if such aggression exists, it is a virtue, not a vice.
Moreover, they argue that children do better socially and educationally when in day care. But the solid research on these matters points in the other direction. Robertson cites many studies showing how children are disadvantaged on the academic and social levels, when kept in day care.
He also notes that when a study does come out which suggests that children do well, even better, in day care, it is always front page news. But when the more numerous and reliable studies come along, warning of the negative consequences, they are buried in the back pages of the press, if they appear at all.
Robertson competently takes on a number of myths about day care. For example, he challenges the myth that the poor need, and want, day care. He documents how in the US, the families most likely to use center-based day care are those earning $75,000 a year. Surveys show that the vast majority of low-income mums prefer to have their children stay at home in their early years. He even demonstrates that mums who want to put their children into day care are “atypical”.
The fact that so many parents do resort to day care is evidence of economic policies that make it very hard on single-income families. Instead of putting more money into day care, we should be restructuring our economic policies so that those families who choose to let their infants stay at home in the early years can do so.
But much of the modern corporate world is in league with feminist ideology here. Both identify women’s interests with “independence from husbands and family, and a corresponding greater dependence on corporation and government”. Earlier feminists recognised the importance of the home and of motherhood. Modern feminists do not, and much of the free market is happy to side with the new version of things.
Thus Robertson calls for an overhaul of both government and corporate practices, to reflect the desire of most mothers to be at home with their babies. His concluding chapter offers suggestions on how parents can reclaim parenting. Social and taxation policies must be reworked to allow for genuine parental choice. Those parents who wish to look after their own children should be given the financial incentives to do so.
This book provides the data and rationale for why we need to rethink our priorities and revamp of policies. Bureaucrats and others will not like it, but most parents will welcome it. Let the debate continue.