In the United States, despite the fact that work and family life has changed profoundly in recent decades, we lack anything resembling an actual child care system. Excellent day cares are available, of course, if you have the money to pay for them and the luck to secure a spot. But the overall quality is wildly uneven and barely monitored, and at the lower end, it’s Dickensian.
This situation is especially disturbing because, over the past two decades, researchers have developed an entirely new understanding of the first few years of life. This period affects the architecture of a child’s brain in ways that indelibly shape intellectual abilities and behavior. Kids who grow up in nurturing, interactive environments tend to develop the skills they need to thrive as adults—like learning how to calm down after a setback or how to focus on a problem long enough to solve it. Kids who grow up without that kind of attention tend to lack impulse control and have more emotional outbursts. Later on, they are more likely to struggle in school or with the law. They also have more physical health problems. Numerous studies show that all children, especially those from low-income homes, benefit greatly from sound child care. The key ingredients are quite simple—starting with plenty of caregivers, who ideally have some expertise in child development.
and it can be put in figures:
The US, of course, doesn’t put in the money … except for the military:
More women were entering the military, and many had children. Increasingly, the wives of male soldiers had jobs of their own. Believing that subsidized day care was essential for recruitment and morale, military leaders created a system the National Women’s Law Center has called a “model for the nation.” More than 98 percent of military child care centers meet standards set by the National Association for the Education of Young Children, compared with only 10 percent of private-sector day cares.
The article also talks about the Tata case in Texas, where four out of the seven children in her day care died from a fire when Tata left them alone to go shopping. Jonathan Cohn has an interesting comment about this:
DM: How did you hear about the Tata case? How did you find Kenya Mire?
JC: I remember hearing about it when it happened. The topic was on my mind, so I followed it closely — along with some other stories like it from around the country. I was actually surprised the Houston story got so little national coverage. The local television stations were all over it. Two reporters from the Houston Chronicle did a terrific reconstruction of the day. But almost nobody outside of Texas seemed to notice.
As I learned later, the lack of national coverage was typical. I did a search of Newsweek and Time. As best as I can tell, they had one – just one – cover on child care going all the way back to the early 1970s. It’s possible there were more, and I missed them. But, in general, this issue doesn’t seem to get nearly the attention you would think, relative to the number of people directly involved.
That’s something to remember when you hear about the lack of coverage of cases like this. Most stories don’t go national and the reason they do is mostly arbitrary–the Tata case has at least as many elements as the Gosnell case: it’s grisly with four dead children, there’s a seemingly indifferent ‘killer’, and it involves something that the people in the US care about strongly. The problem for conservatives is that the solution is more government oversight and, in the case of child care, more government money to make sure it’s available to everyone. That’s why conservatives try to shift the argument (the argument is made more explicitly here):
Conservative commentators have lambasted liberal news sources for what they call a culture of ignoring unpleasant facts about abortion, while liberal news sources respond that conservatives have done no better and are only drawing attention to the case now in hopes of bolstering anti-abortion sentiment.
This basically is the pro-life argument: abortion is bad, look and see the grisly pictures. The problem is that if you think about it, this is the type of thing that happens when access to safe, legal abortion is restricted (or if it’s outlawed); if there is easy access to abortion with vigorous government oversight, it is much less likely to happen.