Is Childcare Good for Children?

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ChildcareThe Australian Federal Government recently announced that it will introduce a package of new measures to provide more flexible and accessible childcare to better meet the needs of what it calls “modern families”. The $11 million trials will include overnight and weekend care for the children of shift workers, extended weekday hours and more out of school hours care to “remove the barriers to workforce participation”. The media release, issued by the Minister for Childcare, was seasoned with references to how the trial responds to the needs of families and helps parents in the “work/family juggle”. The Minister spoke about the way in which the significant growth in women’s workforce participation in recent decades had created extra demand for childcare.

And demand it has created. There are around 6500 childcare centres in Australia offering long day care (from early morning to early evening) and the number of centres is increasing by about 250 centres per year. That of course means the number of clients are on the rise with 1.9 million children in 2011 attending one or more types of childcare, which was just over half of Australian children aged 12 or younger.

Without a doubt childcare is seen as an acceptable and even a socially responsible path. Reports are seen in the media from time-to-time extolling the value that quality childcare can bring in the well being of children. The studies seem to indicate that the more time childcare staff spend being actively engaged with the children, the better their social and emotional development. One expert on child development was quoted as saying the highest quality childcare is provided in those centres where the children are “loved to bits”. What? Have we reached such a place where the most obvious data seems to surprise us? The fact that children need to be loved and given attention is the most basic piece of human programming yet it is as if we are discovering it afresh.

What is most discouraging though is that in all the talk of childcare – from government ministers to journalists to university academics – no one seems to be able (or willing) to annunciate the elephant in the room. And that elephant is that children fare best within the care of their parents, and in most circumstances that primary care is usually given through the mother. Yet instead of highlighting the essential nature of parents in the direct raising of their children, the federal government assigns a special minister to childcare and proceeds to undertake trials that will essentially allow parents to be more absent from their children than ever before.

Allow me to say that I am not criticising those who work in childcare, the families who opt to use childcare or mothers who work. What I want to point out is the strange disconnect that seems exists. Too many people seem very intent on making us all feel good about childcare and as far as I can see the reason for this is simply to keep women in workforce participation. Without a doubt our society needs women in various positions of employ meaning that there will be times when the children of these mothers will need to be looked after, hence the genuine need for childcare. But with half of Australian children in some form of regular childcare one can’t help but wonder if we have inverted our priorities as a nation.

Childcare is not the sign of a healthy nation. If all the mothers of the world went to work tomorrow that would not be an asset. Any nation is best served by having young children with their parents. The Australian government boasts about its investment of $23.1 billion into early childhood education and care, but where is the allocation to assist mothers to stay at home to be with their children? A mother may opt to work and that is her prerogative but too many find themselves having to work to pay the bills. Too many mothers receive subliminal messages that their value and worth is to be found in paid employment. This is an unfortunate lie. Children need their mothers, not part time, but full time. A healthy nation needs its mothers being mothers. We speak of childcare as if it is normal to take a toddler and leave them in the care of strangers (however genuine and well trained they might be) in their most formative years. A nation that is overly proud of its achievements in burgeoning childcare numbers has truly missed the point.

Bernard Toutounji

Bernard Toutounji

Bernard Toutounji is an Australian Catholic writer and speaker. He writes a fortnightly column called Foolish Wisdom ( which examines afresh issues within news, culture or faith. One of Bernard’s favourite quotes comes from Edith Stein who said "All those who seek truth seek God whether this is clear to them or not". Bernard is married to Jane and they have two daughters.

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16 thoughts on “Is Childcare Good for Children?”

  1. Avatar

    Some mothers are left with no choice but to work and leave their kids under the care of childcare providers. We know of our duties as a parent, of course it is important that we are the ones taking care of our children but there are just some circumstances that do not allow us to be full time mothers and i don’t think that makes us less of a mother.

      1. Avatar

        No, your article is quite explicit in station that children are better cared for by their mothers and that a nation that encourages women to work in paid employment needs to examine its priorities. The fact that you don’t baldly state in one sentence that mothers should not be employed doesn’t change your clear meaning. You think women should not have jobs. Please be honest and own up to this.

      2. Avatar

        Try reading the article again, this time slowly and completely. He was clearly speaking about the government. He also differentiates between having to work and wanting to work. Oh, and remove the chip from your shoulder. I think it’s blocking your view.

      3. Avatar

        The second sentence of the final paragraph is “if all the mothers in the world went to work tomorrow that would not be an asset.” That is a plain statement that women should not have paid employment if they have children. You believe women should have either jobs or families. It not both. Own it. Admit it. Women should always have to grovel to a male for food and shelter. Have the courage to admit your beliefs instead of being such hypocrites

      4. Avatar

        He’s not saying that at all. What he is saying is that the current circumstances of the country’s economy, priorities and government do not place value on the role of a mother.

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  3. Avatar

    One thing you are ignoring in your “I’m not criticizing working mothers” criticism is that support for extended hours, weekend hours, etc. childcare actually means that families could have the support to work a better variety of hours that can increase the time child spend with one or both parents. If a family finds its necessary to have a second income the parents are often trapped by available daycare into finding work that is in that 9-5 block therefore eating up the daylight hours both parents have with their children. Having later or earlier hours or weekend care more available could mean that one parent could go part-time, work a different shift, etc. because they can more easily find good quality care for the children during those overlapping hours – which might actually decrease.

    Please also remember that many of us mother’s work so that the burden is less for our husbands – we work so our husbands don’t have to work two jobs or 60-70 hour weeks to get that precious overtime need to pay the rent. It is equally important to support ANY system of work within a family that optimizes the time both parents get to spend with their children.

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  5. Avatar

    I think I would just like the government to give me directly the subsidy it would pay to a childcare facility. I could pay myself to look after my own children. Then i would have a real choice.

  6. Avatar

    In the US, it is now more common that both parents work than in an earlier era, like the 1950’s or earlier. In a lot of cases, it’s a necessity that both parents need to work, due to family financial stability. But when a decision to have 1 parent stay home to care for their kids occurs, there are fathers that stay at home, too. Please don’t exclude us out as a good source of child care. Your article seems to focus as using mothers as the best caregivers for children at home. Kids need their fathers too. Some can be as nurturing as some their mothers. And some mothers earn more money than their husbands, which is a better financial choice to have the father stay at home.

  7. Avatar

    I agree with this article. I’m a working mom – full time at one point
    and now after my third child – part time. I work less hours so that I
    can spend more time with my children. Yes, we all know that in many
    instances moms have to work and I’m one of them. But it’s true – there is a disconnect. After having a baby, most working moms
    don’t want to return to work. But we’ve been sold that that’s the thing
    to do. Just put them in daycare. But often we need to look at what we
    have and don’t really need. Do we need a $25,000 or $30,000 car? What is
    that paycheck really going towards? Like I said, some moms really do
    need to work and no is picking on them – putting food on the table and
    making a house payment is necessary! But God created mothers (and
    fathers) for a reason – no one will ever take better care of their child
    than they would.

  8. Avatar

    Well, I don’t mind saying explicitly that children are best taken care of by a parent, family member or close friend, not strangers. If that isn’t possible then a nanny or small childcare in a neighbor’s home are alternatives. Institutional childcare is just plain bad for kids. I know because my best friend worked in a childcare business and the stories she told me would blow your mind. My friend was better and actually cared about the kids but she was the exception.

  9. Avatar

    There needs to be a balance. Women who leave their kids in daycare feel bad about it and they need the support telling them that it’s okay to do what you have to do. Working does not make you a bad parent. But women who stay at home also need support. A woman should not be made to feel guilty regardless of her choice to work or stay home.

  10. Avatar

    This article is bang on. I am a childcare provider of over a decade. The simple truth is this – children do NOT thrive in childcare. Period. Just take a moment and count how many hours a parent needs to spend with their child, while at home, each and every day. One would assume these are hours that are greatly NEEDED for the well-being of the child. Now, go into your child’s daycare, count the number of children and then do the math on the ratio. Imagine your childcare provider is responsible for five different children. How in the WORLD could she possibly give your child AND the rest of the children in her care the amount of attention and care they NEED in one nine or ten hour day? The math doesn’t lie. And, furthermore, “love them to bits”? Really? We are childcare workers – WORKers. This is a job to us, just like it is a JOB, that every parent who drops off their child goes to each and every morning. We do our jobs well, and the kids are kept entertained, clean, and safe. But we do not LOVE these children.
    Parents who place their children in paid childcare are delusional if they really think that is the best situation for their child. It’s not! And, furthermore, time and time again parents are now dropping their child into care and taking vacation days or “me” days. Really? I think the amount of time children now spend in childcare is a true testament of where societies/parents priorities lie – and it’s NOT with the children.

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