Daycare has become a controversy because of the great quantity of advantages and disadvantages that it involves. While a very large number of parents have to rely on child care centers because of career ambitions or financial needs that only their jobs can fulfill, most child psychiatrists believe that the ideal growing environment for an infant is at home with the family. The problem is that choosing the right caregiver, a good substitute for the parents, is very hard, and the consequences of a wrong decision can be very detrimental to the child’s personality development.
This choice depends on many factors like culture, education and especially income. In fact, the financial availability plays the most important role in the possibility to choose the child care with the highest quality, which means, the lowest danger of a negative impact on the infant. In March 1970, twenty-six percent of mothers with children under two years of age were in the labor force. By the same month in 1984, that figure was 46. 8 percent (U. S. Department of Labor, 1984).
In the present day, that number is even higher and the children under five years of age who need daycare assistance reached ten million (Bureau of Census, 1995). This strong increase of demand for external caregivers brought to the creation of many specialized centers and the growth of the sector of non-professional assistance like part-time babysitters. Unfortunately, the most part of these offerings are incompetent and low quality. As the average age in which children are placed in extra-parental hands is decreasing, the risk of later behavioral consequences increases, so the choice of the right solution becomes always more critical.
At this time, over half of the children under one year need this kind of assistance and approximately sixteen percent of them belong to families very close to the poverty line (NAP chap. 1). The problem is accentuated by the widening of the gap between rich and poor, that can be translated in this matter as an increase of difficulty for low-income families to have access to the much more expensive high quality day care options. There are several aspects that built such a controversial situation and the most important are certainly the cultural and economical ones.
The huge growth in women’s independence and professional ambition, in addition to importance, of the last decades, caused the fall of the cultural basis that have always taken for granted the responsibility of the mother as the full-time caregiver (Chisholm 38). Now women are more willing to gain a successful and respectable place in society, and this can be achieved almost exclusively through hard work and full immersion in their jobs. Simultaneously, the economical situation of our society caused many families to depend on two incomes to satisfy the basic needs.
In fact, the increase in the cost of living not sufficiently balanced by a relatively smaller rise in wages, and a greater attitude toward materialism and conspicuous consumption, have given women the same financial responsibility as men (Chilman 451). This aspect can be fully applied only on families with an average income or better, because professional daycare programs are pretty expensive and in some cases can reach prices higher than the minimum wage. Those factors combined, have made the external daycare for many couples an absolutely indispensable help to create a family without frustrating sacrifices.
But this service is not the easy resolution to every problem, because it can be practical for the parents as well as dangerous for the infant. The advantage that most commonly encourage parents to enroll a child in a daycare program is the freedom for both of them to pursuit their objectives. In fact, some of those programs allow the parents to keep on working full-time, with the benefit of the same income level of before and give, especially to the mother, the possibility to keep a personal life not exclusively concentrated on the infant (Chilman 451).
Moreover, this opportunity avoids the scheduling of different work shifts for the two parents that could potentially bring to a loss of closeness in the relationship. For the child there is basically one advantage: the high quality services offer the right settings to start developing the right educational and social skills required to be academically and economically successful in the future.
In fact, researchers reached the following conclusion talking about a study part of the federally funded Abecedarian Project, that involved 111 infants: Throughout their school years, the daycare group had higher IQ scores, better language skills and higher academic achievement than the other group. As adults, the children who received the intervention were more than twice as likely to attend college and be employed. (“A boost” 1)
These results seem to be more evident on children living in poverty when compared to their peers enrolled in low quality daycare (NAP chap. ). Unfortunately, only very few infants belonging to that social class have the possibility to be enrolled in high quality services, because the trend is to use non-professional caregivers for cultural choice and economical constraint (NAP chap. 2). The risk of coming across non-competent caregivers, like next-door babysitters or nurses without any degree or official targeted education, is indirectly the major disadvantage of choosing incautiously a day care program.
In fact, these people very often use experience and common sense to take care of children, very often misunderstanding and underestimating their feelings (Leavitt 41). This problem is related to the fact that this kind of caregivers seem to be mostly concerned about children’s appropriate behavior rather than their real needs, and consequently they build in the infants a repression of expressing their true feelings and teach them to act like they think is right (Leavitt 38-9).
This kind of behavior is defined by Van Ijzendoorn as “authoritarian,” in opposition to the “authoritative” one present in the high quality centers (772). The first one consists in “forced restriction of unwanted behavior without explanation” and the second one “implies the discursive regulation of behavior by emphasizing its potentially harmful consequences” (qtd. in Van Ijzendoorn 772).
Therefore it becomes very important the selection of a caregiver that can offer a rearing environment very similar to the familiar one, in order to give the child a right basic education and to limit as much as possible the inconsistency between the parental and non parental settings (780). At this time, if there are few possibilities to chose from, it seems that parents are more likely “to send their children to the first option that fits their needs for location, opening hours, and price, rather than to the option that fits their childrearing attitudes”(780).
The studies’ results about day care pointed out that this controversy involves many factors and unfortunately the financial availability is the most important. Until there will be an efficient and especially just public support system for this problem, the situation will be unequal between high and low social classes. A fine education should be granted to every child independently of the parent’s income, and that begins at the birth of a baby.