ChildCare Debate

Is the Church speaking up for Children & Families?

Bob McCoskrie – National Director – Family First NZ
DaycareNapsI recently drove past a church complex which had the following sign up for its daycare – “Now enrolling under-2’s”.

I asked myself, “Is the church acting in the best interests of children and families?” Should we be concerned at the way that churches have become part of the massive daycare industry?

But what troubled me the most is that we have not even had real debate around this issue. Have churches been blinded by the ‘cash cow’ of early childhood education? (ECE) Have they swallowed the line “Well, kids have to go somewhere so it may as well be to a church one” – without considering the wider implications of the welfare of children and the important role of parents?

It has been argued that childcare is simply a reflection of changing working patterns and family arrangements. However, it could also be argued that work patterns have changed because of the availability and government subsidizing of childcare.

And it could also be argued that ECE is simply an extension of the nanny state – that ‘professional child-carers’ can look after your children better than you can. This is the same ideology which says that politicians know better than you do how to raise your children (the anti-smacking law), how to educate your child in the area of sex, whether your child should have a vaccine, take contraceptives, and even whether they should have an abortion.


  Why does the government pay millions for professionals to care for our children, but offer no tax breaks or financial recognition for parents who sacrifice careers and income to do it?___________________________________________

According to a recent report in the NZ Herald, the number of children under 2 in childcare leaped 47% in the last nine years and now includes 25% of all infants aged 0 and 1. Combine that with 57% of 2-year-olds also in care, New Zealand’s total of 36% of all those under three in childcare is now among the highest in the world.

I’m not against childcare per se. My own children attended a pre-school for a couple of mornings each week. Every parent needs a break – especially single parents. But the kindergarten model and the Parents Centre model was based on both the best interests of the whole family and the child.

In the discussion on what is best in the area of childcare, let us not forget the children. Has the church asked this question – why do we really want extended periods of childcare for our children?

And don’t be fooled by the labels. In the 70’s it was called ‘child-minding’, the 80’s ‘child-care’, the 90’s ‘early learning centres’, and today it’s ‘early childhood education’. But ultimately, it’s still child-minding.

In 1969, California passed the first no-fault divorce law. It developed through agreement from both the right and the left and several task forces. Amazingly, there was no consideration at all, despite all the task forces, meetings, and research, about how this would impact children. We now know that they ignored a major victim of family breakdown – the children.

As child expert and author of “Raising Babies” Steve Biddulph says, childcare is too much, too early and too long for our children. Yet our government seems totally focused on pouring millions and millions of taxpayer money into encouraging parents to leave their children for longer periods of time in so-called professional daycare.

Why does the government pay millions for professionals to care for our children, but offer no tax breaks or financial recognition for parents who sacrifice careers and income to do it?

The Government’s early-childhood education spend is forecast to be $1.12 billion this year, up from $428m in 2005.

Cute BabyThe previous Labour government patted itself on the back for allowing 14 weeks paid parental leave – that’s 14 weeks for mum to bond with baby, recover from pregnancy and childbirth, and establish a breastfeeding and daily routine (the Ministry of Health recommends six months breastfeeding), ready to go back to work while baby goes into childcare.

A Department of Labour study found that 70-75% of mums want at least 12 months paid parental leave. Most mums are going back to work after 6 months, not because they want to, but because of financial necessity. 

Yet countries like the Czech Republic, Estonia, France and Germany offer three years paid parental leave. In some Nordic counties, there is even paid paternity leave.

The Ministry of Social Development found that a third of all working couples say they are unhappy they both have to work. And almost 60% of mums with children under the age of three are rejecting work and are choosing to be fulltime mums. 

A Massey University study found that only 2% approved of women working full-time when they had pre-schoolers, and half of those surveyed said that both the pre-schooler and the family suffered when a mum worked even part-time. 

And kiwi parents’ resistance to being forced into the workforce and depending on childcare is shared by other mums around the world.  

Of 1,500 women questioned in the Young Women’s Lifestyle Survey of Great Britain 2005, only one in 10 said they wanted to work full time and put their child into nursery care. Almost two-thirds said they expected to have to work part-time because of financial demands. Two-thirds of young women felt a man should be the main provider for his family if possible. 

In American research, researchers at the University of Minnesota and the University of Montana surveyed 2000 mothers with at least one child under 18 and found that more than 41% were employed full-time, but only 16% ideally wanted to be. One-third wanted to work part-time and one-third preferred to work for pay from home.

According to a national poll conducted in 2000 by the Manhattan-based market research firm, Youth Intelligence, 68% of women between the ages of 18 and 34 say they would prefer to stay at home and raise their children to working outside the home. Cosmopolitan magazine, which commissioned the poll, proclaimed this 68% “the new housewife wannabes.” 

So what’s wrong with childcare? What do mothers know that the government doesn’t?

According to ‘The Daycare Project’ at the University of London, childcare children who went to nurseries before the age of 9 months for more than 20 hours a week showed evidence of distress and negativism at 18 months and performed less well on language tests at 3 years, in spite of having parents with higher status jobs and salaries and more qualifications than other parents.

The survey data showed that mothers of the children in daycare were more depressed, the quality of their parenting practices declined, and there was also a significant deterioration in the quality of their relationship with their partners.

Research from Cambridge University and the Free University of Berlin found the level of the stress hormone cortisol doubled in some toddlers during their first nine days at nursery. The levels were still relatively high several months later, even though the toddlers showed no outward signs of distress. The study monitored children aged between 11 and 20 months. The children had all been cared for mainly at home and were then placed in nurseries for 40 hours a week. Their stress levels were found to be between 75% and 100% higher compared with when they had been at home.  

In a paper presented at 55th annual convention of the Canadian Psychological Association in 1994, a large scale synthesis from 88 studies concluded that regular non-parental care for more than 20 hours a week had an unmistakably negative effect on socio-emotional development, behaviour and attachment of young children.   

The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) has followed the progress and development of 1,300 children since 1991. It concluded that the longer above 10 hours a week a child spent in group care, the more likely teachers were to report difficult behaviour once they started school. There was a direct correlation between time spent in childcare and aggression, defiance, disobedience, and demands having to be met immediately.  

baby motherSignificantly, the latest update of this research showed that teachers of 11 and 12-year-olds in the US reported that those who spent more time in early childcare were more likely than other children to “be disobedient”, to “get in many fights” and to “argue a lot”. This was not reflected in children who were looked after by family members, child-minders or nannies.  

NZ’s Brainwave Trust fronted by Judy Bailey and which was formed as a response to new scientific evidence on the impact that experiences in the first 3 years have on the brain development of a child, says on its website, “The early attachment between parents and their baby creates a foundation for that child’s future relationships with others. Smiling, singing, touching and cuddling as part of attuned, responsive care is necessary to develop this part of the brain. Close, loving physical touch is crucially important. These things allow the child to develop the brain connections needed to feel empathy and care for others – an important prerequisite for healthy functioning as an adult.” 

The most telling research is out of Canada which had instigated a policy in 1996 in Quebec, similar to what our government has. The University of British Columbia research compared the outcomes for children in Quebec to those of children in other parts of Canada who didn’t have access to the childcare subsidy. 

The findings revealed that children in daycare were 17 times more hostile than children raised at home, and almost three times more anxious. They found that the increased use of childcare was associated with a decrease in their well-being relative to other children. Reported fighting and other measures of aggressive behaviour increased substantially.   

Just as significant is that they also found that the well-being of parents deteriorated. The survey data showed that mothers of the children in daycare were more depressed, the quality of their parenting practices declined, and there was also a significant deterioration in the quality of their relationship with their partners.


Has the church been blinded by culture, ideology and
perhaps most invasively, funding


The evidence is already in.  

It is for these reasons that parents are choosing to stay at home, even at the cost of a lower household income. This is what parents want to do – this is what the government should be supporting. 

playgroupAnd it’s what the church should be advocating for – even resourcing parents, and particularly solo parents, to fulfil this goal. Where are the programmes to financially support parents who have pre-schoolers? Where is the advocacy and public debate for stay-at-home mums or dads? Where’s the in-home care programmes to give parents a break? 

Please let me emphasise – many of us went to kindy or playgroup, and many of us have had or have our kids in some sort of daycare at some point, but it was limited. It’s the excess that is the major concern.

Jobs, working parents and wealth don’t buy happiness, strong marriages, good parent / child interaction, and loving families. Parents know that. They’re choosing to sacrifice income for nurturing, where they can afford to.

Full-time “hands-on” parenting is a child’s right. For parents, and especially solo parents, they shouldn’t be being forced to compromise good parenting because they have to work full-time to survive financially. Government policy and spending should enable parents to parent “hands-on” – so that the children are raised in the best environment possible.

Is the church fighting for this? Or has it been blinded by culture, ideology and perhaps most invasively, funding?