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Fuzzy Child-Care Data

R. Jones

"Ms. Jones is a columnist and mother of two. Her main focus is on political commentary that 'bucks the trend of touchy-feely emotionalism' and blinkered liberal thinking."

by R. Jones
August 1st, 2002

"Welfare children in no-parent households are on the up-swing" screams the headline. The children of single parents who are left in the care of non-parents has increased from 7.5 percent to 16.1 percent since the late nineties. A study of census data that was recently presented before an audience of welfare experts at Harvard suggests that this increase is due to welfare program reforms -- welfare recipients are required to work up to 30 hours a week (hardship exceptions noted). Media hounds are foaming at the implications. Evil Republican-initiated welfare reforms are responsible for children growing up in no-parent households! If you left it at that, the casual reader would be left with the impression that welfare-reform is anti-child. The study specifically focused on single-parent, black, inner-city welfare-recipient homes only. It makes sense that the more single parents who work, the more children will be left in child-care arrangements. Before we start donning sackcloth, though, there are a few things that we need to look at.

For one, we ought to look at the number of children whose childcare arrangements consist of a loving relative, usually a grandparent, who is looking after the child during work/school hours.

For another, we need to look at how adverse a "non-parental care" situation truly is.

And, finally, we also need to consider the number of children in two-parent homes who are in child-care arrangements.

No one with a modicum of sense denies that the best situation for any child to be in is to be cared for by two loving parents. Having at least one loving parent is the next best thing. If not a loving parent, then a loving and responsible family member. On down the line, anywhere where the child has interaction with caring, responsible adults and a sense of belonging, continuity, and tradition helps to anchor a strong set of values that the child will use as he becomes an adult.

I have to chuckle at the inconsistency of these disparate liberal groups. On the one hand we have pro-welfare types moaning about the evils of requiring a parent to work to support herself and her child. On the other hand, we have the progressive/liberal Fountain Street Church calling out the importance of non-parental adults in a child's life in last Fall's issue of its journal "The Free Spirit" : After surveying nearly 100,000, sixth through twelfth graders in 25 different states, several interesting patterns emerged. The most compelling of them was this: A child?s likelihood of avoiding dangerous behaviors such as drinking, sexual activity and violence and to participating in thriving behaviors such as achieving academically and paying attention to healthy nutrition and exercise is directly related to the number of adults other than parents in which he or she can confide. That means kids who have a number of concerned adults in their lives, including teachers, coaches, aunts, uncles, grandparents, or other friends are far more likely to arrive successfully at adulthood than those who do not.

This study, if true, suggests that while no one can replace a parent in the life of a child, it is nevertheless important for children to have significant access to adults who are not their parents. Hasn't this always been understood, even back in the days when extended families lived within a few blocks of one another, or sometimes even under the same roof? Isn't this dynamic at work when we send a child to school each day, and to football practice every Tuesday?

Placing other adults in charge of our children from time to time is what we all do. Interestingly enough, that same census information that Harvard concluded meant that welfare reform was evil, (you can find it at http://www.census.gov/) indicates that children overall are spending more time in "non-parental" care situations. That includes two-parent homes and the information is true irrespective of whether the family is on welfare or not.

In fact, the numbers indicate that two-parent households are more likely to put their children in some type of childcare arrangement that does not involved family members than are single-parent, welfare-recipient households! The wealthier families tend to enroll their preschoolers in Montessori schools, or wish to "socialize" their children by putting them in part-time preschools, or retain their older, school-aged children in after-school programs and activities. This is considered by many to be a good thing, not a bad. Welfare recipients are more likely to place their children with family members -- it's much less costly.

Forget the hysterical, foamy-lipped frenzy over "no-parent welfare homes!!!" The problem is not that children's parents are expected to work to support them -- it's that people who cannot adequately support their children are having them in the first place. But that's a rant for another day.

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"...the numbers indicate that two-parent households are more likely to put their children in some type of childcare arrangement that does not involved family members than are single-parent, welfare-recipient households..."

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