The Erosion of the Family that Christians Aren’t Talking About Enough
Orthodox Christians are champions of the family. And rightly so. Stretching back to the beginning of history and the creation of the world, marriage (and, by extension, the family) was the first institution that God created (Genesis 2:18, 24-25). Chronologically, the family supersedes the state, the church, and any other institution in society. For that reason, Christians often call the family the “basic unit” or “basic institution” of society.
Inseparable from the concept of the family is the principle that parents have the primary responsibility to care for the children that God has entrusted to them. (For more on this, see A Christian Discussion around Daycare and Child Care – Part 1.) We have traditionally advocated for the application of this principle of parental responsibility in matters of education and health care (e.g. advocating for parental choice in education or parental consent for an abortion or for a sex-change surgery). The Church and charitable institutions used to lead in both these areas of life but gradually relinquished these activities to the government. When a government takes over a sector of society, it can use its coercive power of the sword to compel people to do things that a voluntary institution may refuse to do. For example, the government of British Columbia uses its power to require public schools to teach from a strictly secular perspective, to promote the use of SOGI teaching resources, and to force a hospice to provide medical assistance in dying.
Today, both our federal and provincial governments are proposing the single greatest expansion of state authority over the family and parental responsibility in the past century: the institutionalized care of young children. And Christians aren’t even batting an eye.
A Short History of the State’s Involvement in Education and Child Care in British Columbia
For most of human history, parents have directly fulfilled the task of caring for and educating their children, following the original biblical mandate (see Exodus 12:26-27, Deut. 6:7, Deut. 11:19, Joshua 4:7, Proverbs 1:8, etc.). Over time, the institutional instruction of older children began to develop in Israel around the time of Jesus and in Western Europe around the Middle Ages. This instruction was almost exclusively provided by the church and generally focused on religious and moral teaching rather than focusing on the subjects of reading, writing, mathematics, or science that are more common in schools today.
As technological development began to take off at the end of the eighteenth and nineteenth century, parents and the wider society began to recognize that more extensive and formal schooling was necessary to prepare children for future vocations and participation in increasingly democratic societies. This expanded form of education was still spontaneous and spearheaded by the church under the free will and consent of parents.
In the middle of the nineteenth century, the state in Britain began to involve itself in the education of children. They made formal education mandatory and mandated the number of years that children must be in school. By the end of the century, various levels of government in the United Kingdom began to be not only directing education but directly providing education itself.
As British Columbia began to be settled as a British colony around this time, it imported Britain’s model of education, starting with institutional schools run by religious or private organizations. Parents again chose whether or how long to send their children to these schools. That changed with the Common Schools Act of 1865 and the Free Common Schools Act of 1872, in which the colonial government began to fund, operate, and regulate education in British Columbia. It was this original intervention that led to the development of the mandatory and secular public school system that enrols 85% of students in British Columbia today, a system that reflects the priorities and values of the educational bureaucracy rather than those of parents.
Child care is now heading in the exact same direction as education. (Child care, in this post, is defined as the care of young children (usually aged 0-5), regardless of who provides it – parents, family members, friends, nannies, early childhood educators, or daycare providers. Non-parental child care more specifically refers to the care of a young child by anyone except the child’s parents, and daycare refers to the institutional or professional care of young children.)
For millennia, child care was properly understood as the domain of parents. But families over the past 30 years have increasingly been entrusting the care of young children to family members, friends, and institutional caregivers. Until recently, this trend has been a social trend without too much government involvement, similar to the social trend towards institutionalized schooling 150 years ago. That is changing. Fast.
The State’s Plans for Child Care
The provincial government has seen how widespread non-parental child care has become in modern culture and has decided that it wants in.
Back in 2017, the BC NDP were elected to form the government under the promise to create a universal $10-a-day system of daycare (plus less generous subsidies for other forms of non-parental child care). In the 2020 provincial election, all three major parties committed to expanding the government’s role in the child care sector. The BC NDP wanted to enshrine access to child care in law (similar to how health care is at the federal level), expand the number of $10-a-day daycare spaces, and build its own daycare facilities. The BC Greens wanted to “accelerate the work of building a universal child care system” by providing $500 per month for families with a child under the age of 3 and a stay-at-home parent, free child care for children under the age of 3, and the expansion of the number of daycare spaces. The BC Liberals supported providing $10-a-day child care for low-income British Columbians (and $20 or $30-a-day child care for middle-income British Columbians), adding 10,000 child care spaces, and ensuring the “right to child care is available for every parent” by supporting non-profit and market-based child care.
Perhaps just as significantly, the BC NDP government plans to move the Ministry of State for Child Care into the Ministry of Education, signalling that the government views daycare, under the supervision of early childhood educators, as a form of education. In essence, the government wants public schooling to start at an even earlier age.
Now, although there is a requirement that all children aged 5-16 must receive an education at a public school, independent school, or homeschool, there is no such requirement that all children must be enrolled in non-parental child care. As it stands right now, the province of British Columbia is only planning to make universal, subsidized child care available for those who want it. And pre-pandemic, the parents of 57.6% of children wanted non-parental child care, despite the current high cost of such child care. If the provincial government makes $10-a-day daycare available, we can expect the proportion of parents using non-parental child care to increase significantly.
Why is this a problem? At least four problems exist:
- Subsidized daycare encourages parents to spend less time with their children
- Subsidized daycare encourages parents to see children as a burden rather than a blessing
- Subsidized daycare fails to appreciate the choice of some parents to care for their own children
- Daycare is not in the best interest of children
(For an expanded rationale for these reasons, see A Christian Discussion around Daycare and Child Care – Part 3.)
What are the Latest Developments around Child Care?
Last week, the NDP introduced Bill 15, the Early Learning and Child Care BC Act. Although this bill doesn’t make drastic changes to British Columbia’s current policies around child care, its goal is to take the next incremental step towards making “inclusive, universal child care a reality in British Columbia.” This week is the last week that the Legislature will sit until October, so we expect that the NDP will try to pass this piece of legislation by the end of the week.
One of the main reasons that the NDP hasn’t fully implemented its universal $10-a-day daycare policy is because such a policy is expensive. But, in its recent budget, the federal government announced that it was willing to transfer $30 billion over five years to the provinces to help subsidize child care.
By itself, British Columbia doesn’t have enough money to fund its universal $10-a-day daycare program, but with federal fiscal might at their back, they will likely accelerate their timetable to fully implement this policy.
What Can We Do?
With all three major political parties in British Columbia in favour of non-parental child care, convincing your local politician to abandon aspirations for a heavily subsidized and regulated daycare will be a tall order. Voting down Bill 15 (Child Care BC) won’t change much by itself. But here are a few suggestions Christians can bring forward as we work to negate the worst aspects of a universal, subsidized daycare program and so safeguard parental responsibility for raising their children:
- Instead of investing money into daycare specifically, invest the money more broadly in families by expanding the BC Child Opportunity Benefit (the provincial version of the Canada Child Benefit) to maximize parental choice.
- Continue to fund children, not daycares. Give each parent a cash voucher or direct subsidy that they can redeem to pay for the child care of their choice, whether that be an institutionalized daycare space, faith-based child care, informal care by a friend or family member, or even stay-at-home parents. Do not directly fund daycare institutions.
- Make households rather than individuals the basic unit of taxation to reduce the tax penalty on families in which one spouse earns significantly more than the other spouse.
- Define child care as the care of a child, no matter who provides this care. Parents are ultimately responsible for child care; early childhood educators provide daycare.
- Regulate child care as lightly as possible. Any regulations should concern basic safety or quality controls (e.g. that daycare facilities be up to code or provide guidance around child-to-caregiver ratios), not about what values that these daycares must promote (e.g. a secular perspective or affirm gender dysphoria).
Reach out to your provincial MLA and urge them to recognize and protect the primary responsibility of parents – not early childhood educators or daycare attendants – to raise their children.