The Perennial Child Care Crisis

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Today, about one in five (23 percent) women claims that she is delaying pregnancy or has decided against having a second or third child because she cannot afford day care costs. The child care issue is a perennial one; if it is August you can count on a press conference complete with a flurry of articles citing a poll or two lamenting the cost of child care, praising Head Start, and demanding increased federal funding for both. Inevitably, there is a child care crisis just as Congress is debating budgets and a new school year is just around the corner.

This year’s child care dilemma was brought to light by a study underwritten by “Fight Crime, Invest in Kids” an organization devoted to preventing criminal activity. Not surprisingly, the anti-crime organization found that most women (85 percent of those polled) believe that youth violence is curbed by participation in day care programs like Head Start. The “Fight Crime” group warns that these parental concerns will motivate women during election 2008 and claims that 68 percent of their respondents will take into account a candidate’s stance on child care and early childhood education when they go into the voting booths in 2008. It is worth noting that the “Fight Crime” survey was a telephone interview of only 600 women.

Even middle-class women, according to the National Association for Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies, are struggling to afford child care while the mother works during the day. Such initiatives always advocate greater federal “investment” in child care and cite exorbitant figures for private child care. The clichis that “if working families can’t afford child care, law enforcement will end up taking care of the kids.” The president of “Fight Crime,” David Kass, ended his press release by calling for more funds for child care in order to cut crime.

When the polls cite “agonizing decisions” parents have to make and the “stark reality” that parents face, they don’t mention the families who choose a boat, second car, larger house, big-screen television, expensive vacation or other luxury item instead of paying for quality child care or having the mother take a break from her career to nurture the family’s children. Instead, the activists assume that the public ought to pay for an individual family’s child care costs so that family, regardless of its income or spending priorities, can use its disposable income on some luxury item. The underlying premise is that no one should ever have to sacrifice in order to do whatever they want to do.

Obviously, our jails are filled with young men who are uneducated and lack social skills they can’t read or write and don’t know how to resolve conflict except through violence. Obviously many of our young girls have babies because they see no hope for the future and are looking for self-esteem in all the wrong places. We do have to invest in the future by finding ways to reach children who are at risk, but pouring money into corruption-ridden programs like federally-funded day care and the Head Start program is certainly counterproductive.

Instead, we ought to be looking at getting fathers back into the home that is a proven way to provide stability and bright futures for children. The fact that single-mothers (many of them valiant, caring and conscientious) struggle to get it all done is not new information. They are the first ones to say that one person cannot possibly do it all when it comes to parenting. One person definitely cannot afford the costs of child rearing. Yet, 40 percent of employees say that they spend at least 12 hours finding care for their children when school is out over the summer. Many single parents spend $3 out of every $10 on child care. Thus, the number of initiatives for states to provide free all-day pre-kindergarten programs has increased dramatically as the number of single parent families has increased.

With middle-class families who complain about the cost of child care, the story is a bit different. Young couples sometimes get on a merry-go-round that they cannot hop off when they buy an expensive home, high-priced vehicles and luxury items. When the children come, the wife cannot afford to cut back on her hours or quit work because mortgage and car payments as well as all the other extra payments for television, second car, cleaning service, etc. make the wife’s income necessary. Often, child care costs almost equal the wife’s income, but even then, the family seldom wants to forgo that extra paycheck.

Our culture has come a long way the wrong way from when Herbert Hoover remarked, as he did numerous times, that America’s children are her greatest natural resource. Too often, children are viewed as a problem that the family must solve. Far too often the solution is to foist the children off onto a paid caretaker who will assume the shaping of that child’s character and future. Too often that caretaker’s view of the child is the view that the child absorbs as his self-image.

But, the children are not the only ones who lose in such scenarios. Adults miss out on the invaluable lessons that we can learn from being with our children and seeing the world through our children’s eyes. John Greenleaf Whittier captured it when he wrote, “We need love’s tender lessons taught as only weakness can; God hath His small interpreters; the child must teach the man.” Many of us need to get back to the real world where we learn the lessons that only our children can teach us.

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