A Christian Discussion Around Daycare and Child Care – Part 3
By Levi Minderhoud & Anna Nienhuis
The recent 2021 Federal Budget featured a massive commitment – $30 billion dollars over five years, not including matching investments by provinces – to subsidize child care. As ARPA Canada has not addressed child care policy in depth since our coverage of the all-day kindergarten debate over a decade ago, two staff members teamed up to provide a series of three blogs to discuss this topic.
Through this three-part child care series, we hope to present some ideas and questions that will get Christians thinking about child care within the framework of biblical norms, with an emphasis on parental responsibility and the gift of children, while also considering the realities of increasing single-parent homes, a declining workforce, and what child care really means.
The first part of the series presents a biblical perspective on child care. The second part sketches out how most Canadians and governments view child care. The third part will point out how government proposals to subsidize daycare generally run contrary to biblical principles, but that there are many actions that the civil government, churches, and parents can take to provide better care for children.
Governments Should Not Subsidize Daycare
Based on the biblical model of child care and the government’s history of involvement in family policy, we suggest that Christians should oppose public funding for daycare but can support some public funding for child care. Let us explain, starting with the four pitfalls of public funding of daycare.
(Remember, as described in the last post, we will use the term daycare to refer to the institutional or professional care of children. The broader term child care refers to the care of a child, regardless of who provides it – parents, family members, friends, nannies, early childhood educators, or daycare providers. Non-parental child care refers to the care of a child by anyone except the child’s parents.)
Reason #1: Subsidized daycare encourages parents to spend less time with their children
If parents are ultimately responsible for raising their children, particularly young children, then subsidizing daycare and even non-parental child care encourages parents to hand off responsibility for raising their children to others while they pursue economic goals or search for self-fulfilment outside of the home.
A classic principle of economics is that when you subsidize something, which is functionally the same as lowering the cost of something, people demand more of it. They demand more of it because it is cheaper for them. Some people might demand more of that thing because it is cheaper, while other people might demand that thing for the first time if it is finally within their price range. If you subsidize the purchase of electric vehicles, more people buy electric vehicles. If you subsidize post-secondary education, more people will choose to attend post-secondary institutions.
The same principle holds true for daycare. If the government subsidizes daycare, some parents who already use daycare a couple of days a week will find it convenient to use it for the entire week. Other parents, enticed by the lower cost of daycare, will start sending their children to daycare. And, obviously, the time that their children spend in daycare is time not spent with their parents.
How are we prioritizing our personal responsibility for our children’s care and spiritual growth, and how are we witnessing to the truth that they are a blessing to be cherished? It may be that our acceptance of an institutionalized education system, even if that be a Christian education system, has sapped our commitment to parents being the primary educators and caregivers to our children. Is it biblical for parents to raise their children for the first five years of life and then hand them over to professional teachers to be their primary educators for the next twelve years? Or is that a cultural tradition? If it is a cultural tradition, will it seem more and more acceptable to allow teachers or early childhood educators to start caring for our children in pre-school? What about early childhood education? Or daycare?
Reason #2: Subsidized daycare encourages parents to see children as a burden rather than a blessing
The primary argument in favour of subsidized daycare sees children as a burden rather than a blessing. Supporters of institutionalized daycare view it as a way to increase women’s participation in the labour force and the economy. Without access to daycare, women are “stuck at home” or “forced to stay home” to care for their child(ren). This is against their presumed “true desire” to rejoin the workforce, either to find fulfillment in a career or a higher material standard of living. According to this mindset, children are not a blessing, but a burden on the career advancement or financial stability of parents, particularly mothers.
Reason #3: Subsidized daycare fails to appreciate the choice of some parents to care for their own children
The subsidization of daycare underappreciates the decisions of parents to stay at home and care for their own children. Our broader culture already looks down upon this decision as a waste of time or perpetuating outdated or sexist stereotypes, but this disregard will only grow if our provincial governments use their leadership to validate only institutionalized daycare rather than parental child care. For Christian parents who choose to raise their own children, they would be required to pay taxes to support publicly funded daycare while also forgoing the income of a second parent in the workforce. In a country where the cost of living – particularly housing – is rising quickly, this extra taxation without any resulting benefit makes it more and more difficult for a parent to prioritize raising their children themselves. A Universal Child Benefit has the benefit of flexibility and fairness: any parent could choose the parenting arrangement that’s best for their family situation, perhaps investing the money in an institutional daycare, or using the funds to compensate (at least partially) for a diminished salary in order to stay home with young children or paying a close and trusted family member to help out on a flexible schedule.
Reason #4: Daycare is not in the best interest of children
In discussions around child care, many advocates speak primarily of the benefits to parents, particularly women. But what about the children? Are daycare programs, like Quebec’s, good for children?
A significant body of evidence suggests not. Cardus, in their 2019 report, A Positive Vision for Child Care Policy Across Canada, describes how Quebec’s universal, subsidized daycare led to poor outcomes for children. In this 2010 interview between Cardus’s lead child care expert Andrea Mrozek and Kevin Milligan, one of the foremost economists in Canada, both expressed their concerns about the outcome for children in Quebec’s institutional child care. A working paper published by Baker, Gruber, and Milligan finds a correlation between attendance at an institutionalized child care center and lower social and behavioural skills.
These findings should not be surprising when we look at the biblical pattern of parents having the ultimate responsibility for raising their children. God designed the structure of a family, and we know He designed it for His glory, our good, and the greater good of society.
Governments Should Enable Better Child Care
For many of the reasons outlined previously, Christians should not support a child care system that only supports or gives preference to institutionalized daycare. Nevertheless, a broader public discussion around child care is important for at least two reasons.
First, the child care provided by stay-at-home parents has been discounted for decades. In a capitalist culture driven by productivity and self-interest, where many find their identity in their work, and in a secular culture dominated by individualism and materialism, being a stay-at-home parent is often met with disdain or boredom. So, a broad child care program that celebrates parenting and enables parents to spend more time with their children by recognizing the value and necessity of child care is laudable.
Secondly, non-parental child care, whether informal or formal care, is an incredible opportunity for the church. Canadians are calling for a national child care strategy because they don’t have the social networks to help them in this task. People who are unable to stay home with their children full time want the assurance that their child has a safe and loving place to spend their days. Irrespective of what policy provincial governments enact around child care, consider looking into what it takes to become a licensed or registered child care space in your province, and consider the open mission field of child care. Many children need non-parental care, and we know that their childhood years are fundamental in shaping their character. Rather than leaving only non-Christians to care for children as early childhood educators, Christians should also pursue this career and shape the morals and worldview of the children of our secular neighbours.
In the grand scope of possible child care policies, we do not think subsidized daycare or non-parental child care should be the first policies that come to mind. Christians can support other government policies that enable more parents to care for their children for a greater length of time, policies that recognize that each child is a precious gift to parents and that parents are primarily responsible for nurturing, disciplining, and instructing their children.
Our policy preference would be to strengthen the Canada Child Benefit and/or extend parental leave benefits. These are two policies that the current Liberal government has already implemented in the past few years. These income-based policies enable and even encourage parents, particularly those parents in greatest need of support, to care for their young children themselves rather than handing children over to early childhood educators or teachers as soon as possible. If the government is unwilling to expand either of these programs and is determined to directly fund non-parental child care, we would vehemently argue for maximum choice and flexibility in the child care system targeted at those who need it the most, rather than a universal daycare program.
Just as in elder care or education, if the government is determined to involve itself in funding the provision of child care, a child care system that subsidizes a variety of parental choices would be significantly better than one that only subsidizes daycare.
All parents need help with the raising and teaching of their children, but not all parents have the incredible access we do to a community of church family, biological family, friends, and neighbours we trust to care for our children when we need them. Some families – such as single-parent families, low-income families, families with children who have exceptional needs, or families with abusive or negligent parents – would greatly benefit from affordable, non-parental child care opportunities. A universal system of subsidized daycare vastly overshoots this mark and undermines the foundations of healthy families, but a limited system that enables choice in child care for these vulnerable families could strengthen these families.
A choice in child care system could also help protect home and work (and volunteer!) boundaries. If we accept that it is the responsibility of both parents to live a full-orbed life that includes caring for children, earning a livelihood, and volunteering in their churches and communities (even if the division of these responsibilities is different for each parent), then limited non-parental child care may be necessary. Many parents who predominantly stay at home are also part of the workforce part-time, yet expecting a parent to work and care for children simultaneously is not realistic, as many parents can attest to! Parenting and paid work both require full attention – just as you don’t want your daycare provider spending the day on her computer in meetings, neither should you want a parent doing that simply so you can say she is home with her children.
Subsidized daycare is often presented as a pro-family policy because it reduces the expenses of many families. Although it might materially enrich families in the short term, it is more aptly characterized as a pro-female-employment strategy. Even without the presence of universally subsidized non-parental child care, our culture seems to consider that early childhood educators and teachers, rather than parents, should supervise children for most of their day, relieving parents of this duty so that they can work full-time. Extending significant funding to daycare providers will entrench this mentality in our provinces and perhaps increasingly creep into the Church. Instead, government policy ought to emphasize that the care of children is primarily the responsibility of parents, and this is a task – and calling – to be taken up with joy.
If we have concerns with subsidized daycare and a strong preference for an enhanced Canada Child Benefit, parental leave program, or choice in child care system, then Christians should reach out now to our provincial and federal representatives to make this known. We have a window to influence the shape of provincial child care systems now, but it will be much harder to change these systems once they are in place. Consider the points raised above, talk about it with your spouse or parents or children, prayerfully consider your stance on child care policy, and start a dialogue with your representatives today.
For more information about child care policy, we highly encourage you to read Cardus’s report A Positive Vision for Child Care Policy Across Canada.
Are there other creative policy options that might be on the table to enable more parents to better care for their children? Is there anything that you’d like to add to this series on child care? Let us know! We’d love to hear your thoughts!
Levi Minderhoud is the BC Manager for ARPA Canada. Anna Nienhuis is a Research and Communications assistant for ARPA Canada.