Re­searchers cite child harm in af­ford­able day care ob­jec­tion

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY BRAD­FORD RICHARDSON

The no­tion that the gov­ern­ment should make day care more af­ford­able has gained bi­par­ti­san trac­tion in this elec­tion cy­cle, but stud­ies sug­gest that ex­ten­sive use of com­mer­cial day care fa­cil­i­ties — es­pe­cially for chil­dren younger than 3 — can do more harm than good in the long term.

What’s more, sur­veys in­di­cate that most Amer­i­cans are skep­ti­cal about out­sourc­ing care for their chil­dren.

“Par­ents kind of in­stinc­tively know that es­pe­cially lit­tle kids need time and at­ten­tion,” said for­mer do­mes­tic pol­icy an­a­lyst Car­rie Lukas, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of the In­de­pen­dent Women’s Fo­rum.

With both of the ma­jor par­ties’ pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nees promis­ing to help work­ing fam­i­lies, af­ford­able com­mer­cial child care has be­come an is­sue to at­tract vot­ers.

Demo­cratic nom­i­nee Hil­lary Clin­ton has said she would cap day care ex­penses at 10 per­cent of a fam­ily’s in­come and in­crease wages for in­dus­try work­ers to pre­vent high turnover rates. Repub­li­can nom­i­nee Don­ald Trump has in­tro­duced a plan to make child care ex­penses taxd­e­ductible, and his aides have ex­pressed in­ter­est in ex­tend­ing tax ben­e­fits to stayat-home par­ents.

But re­searchers in child de­vel­op­ment and public pol­icy ques­tion the wis­dom of mak­ing com­mer­cial day care more af­ford­able.

“I think it would be ter­ri­ble for our kids,” said Steven Rhoads, a po­lit­i­cal scientist at the Uni­ver­sity of Vir­ginia. “Stud­ies in­di­cate that there are real risk fac­tors — anx­i­ety, ag­gres­sion, even when they get older, crim­i­nal be­hav­ior. It’s not a close call in most of these stud­ies.”

Mr. Rhoads is the author of “Tak­ing Sex Dif­fer­ences Se­ri­ously,” which ex­am­ines the pol­icy im­pli­ca­tions of bi­o­log­i­cal dif­fer­ences be­tween the sexes.

He rec­om­mends poli­cies that al­low fam­i­lies with chil­dren to keep more of what they earn. “It would be bet­ter to find ways to sup­port fam­i­lies with young chil­dren more gen­er­ally,” he said.

Ms. Lukas said any child care plan should al­low par­ents to make what­ever de­ci­sion is right for them.

“We all want to make life eas­ier on work­ing par­ents, but I worry when you start just sub­si­diz­ing child care,” she said. “It’s not re­ally fair to fam­i­lies that are mak­ing dif­fer­ent choices when it comes to child care, whether that’s work­ing par­ents who try to work dif­fer­ent hours so they can be home with kids or who make a real fi­nan­cial sac­ri­fice so that they can keep a par­ent at home.”

Re­searchers from the Na­tional Bureau of Eco­nomic Re­search stud­ied the ef­fects of an af­ford­able child care ini­tia­tive in Que­bec. By the year 2000, a $5-per-day day care pol­icy had been im­ple­mented for all chil­dren younger than 5. The study, pub­lished in 2005, found that com­mer­cial day care was as­so­ci­ated with health and be­hav­ioral prob­lems in chil­dren.

The health prob­lems were nei­ther sur­pris­ing nor new. In­fants fre­quently put their hands into their mouths and share toys, and day care cen­ters have long been as­so­ci­ated with higher rates of in­fec­tion. How­ever, the study found that chil­dren in day care also ex­hib­ited higher rates of phys­i­cal ag­gres­sion and emo­tional anx­i­ety.

A fol­low-up study last year found that the be­hav­ioral ef­fects per­sisted into ado­les­cence. Teens ex­posed to the Que­bec day care pro­gram ex­hib­ited more emo­tional and be­hav­ioral prob­lems, in­clud­ing anx­i­ety, ag­gres­sion and hy­per­ac­tiv­ity.

In ad­di­tion, ado­les­cent Que­be­cois had higher rates of crime com­pared with the gen­eral teenage pop­u­la­tion in Canada, and those ex­posed to day care pro­grams had higher crime rates on av­er­age at ev­ery age than their peers.

One ex­pla­na­tion for the find­ings is that chil­dren in day care pro­duce el­e­vated lev­els of the stress hor­mone cor­ti­sol, which is linked to higher rates of fear and anx­i­ety.

A 2006 meta-anal­y­sis in Early Child­hood Re­search Quar­terly found that “the ef­fect of day care at­ten­dance on cor­ti­sol ex­cre­tion was es­pe­cially no­tice­able in chil­dren younger than 36 months.”

“We spec­u­late that chil­dren in cen­ter day care show el­e­vated cor­ti­sol lev­els be­cause of their stress­ful in­ter­ac­tions in a group set­ting,” the study said.

A 2010 study con­ducted by Uni­ver­sity of Min­nesota re­searchers noted that, dur­ing stages of rapid brain de­vel­op­ment in in­fancy, “con­tact with par­ents pre­vents el­e­va­tions in cor­ti­sol, and this has been in­ter­preted as na­ture’s way of pro­tect­ing this de­vel­op­ing brain from the po­ten­tially dele­te­ri­ous ef­fects of this steroid.”

Adults with chil­dren in day care ex­hib­ited “more hos­tile, less con­sis­tent par­ent­ing” and “worse adult men­tal health and re­la­tion­ship sat­is­fac­tion,” the 2005 Que­bec study found.

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