We can no longer ignore the fact that mothers of young children are working and that they desperately need help in finding good child care facilities for their children. The prevalent attitude in the United States seems to be to ignore the problem and hope it will go away. In the meantime, our children are suffering and we are endangering a whole generation.
The following data once reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics speak for themselves. Of married women with children less than a year old, 49.4% work outside of the home. The proportion of families headed by single mothers employed full time ranged from 38% with children under a year old to 79% with children under 3 to 84% whose youngest child is 6 to 17. If mothers are not home, who is taking charge?
It is time that state and federal governments become involved. Parents and day care workers cannot do it alone. It requires facilities and money. Many parents cannot afford adequate day care. As a result, these parents are forced to find substitutes. One substitute is for a parent to take their baby to another mother’s home where several other babies are being cared for. Many of the women who provide such services do excellent jobs. Others do not. Working mothers must just hope for the best because there is no system in place for monitoring these home-based programs.
For school-aged children, a substitute is for the children to go home to empty houses and wait for the parent to finish work. Sometimes the wait is over three hours. Since most parents are anxious about their children being alone, they put restrictions on them. They are not permitted to go out, to have friends in, to use the stove, and so forth. The only activity left for the children is passive watching of television and unsupervised time on the computer. These children also do not have the opportunity to develop their bodies by outdoor play and activities.
Parents should not be put in the position of having to find substitutes for good day care programs. Children and parents are entitled, as citizens, to the best we can give. This means adequately housed and staffed programs. There are many competent willing people who could provide this much needed services if they were only given recognition and support. Many very good programs are being conducted in inadequate facilities. Many of the people in this field feel like second class citizens because nobody attempts to make their jobs easier. The government needs to give legitimacy to their programs by providing the necessary funds for facilities, staff salaries, training, supervision and research into good child rearing practices.
There also needs to be a partnership established between day care workers and the parents. Some parents feel their problem has been solved and their job done when they leave the children at the day care center. If parents want to continue to have close relationships with their children, they must realize that they need to have close contact with the day care workers. Contracts have to be discussed and the mutual roles agreed upon. Parents cannot abdicate all responsibility. It is not fair to day care workers. It is not fair to the children.
Schools may also have to become involved and offer more programs. Many schools now have full day kindergartens. Schools may also have to consider full day programs for all four year olds. Programs under the auspices of the school have built in procedures for quality control. When schools become involved in providing programs for very young children, however, they must resist the temptation to make these programs like all other programs in the school. Some schools just bring the same academic programs down a level for young children. This can be very damaging to children.
Other nations seem to understand better than we do the importance of quality day care for our children, not just those who can afford it. The need is now and our nation will suffer if we so not understand the importance of putting a great deal of time, effort and money into providing the best we can at this most critical stage of our children’s development.