Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Thoughts on Infant Daycare

Today I had lunch with two mothers and their babies. Both of these women had had experience with daycare before they had babies and neither of them want to put their infants into daycare.

Ellen used to be a teacher, but once she became pregnant, she knew she couldn’t find a teaching job. So she applied to work at a daycare in our area. It charges parents $1400 a month and has one adult for every four babies. She said the application process was extensive. At the end, when she was offered a job, she said the pay was $10-12 an hour and that she wouldn’t have guaranteed hours.

“I can make more at Lenscrafters,” she told them. And she did.

Now she wants to work more hours, but her mother can only watch the baby one day a week and Ellen isn’t willing to put her 9-month-old son in daycare.

Sandra did work at a daycare. She said it was a daycare that appealed to upper middle class parents, so people expected it to be good. She wasn’t impressed. She worked in the baby room and said there were not supposed to be any more than 12 babies there at one time. Nevertheless, they often had between 18 and 20 babies.

I asked whether parents complained and she said yes, then they would improve things a bit, then it would return to where it was before. She said that when prospective parents came to visit, the owners would tell her to take eight babies out for a walk in a giant stroller for eight they had. Once they were out of sight, the visiting parents saw a much lower caregiver-baby ratio.

She also told me that once, while wiping a babies face, the baby turned her head and Sandra’s marquis cut diamond ring scratched the babies cheek. She told the owner what happened and the owner decided to tell the parent that the baby had been scratched by a toy. Sandra told the mother what really happened and after the mother knew the owner was lying without apparent reason she pulled her baby out.

I asked Sandra whether she wanted her son in daycare when he became older, at the toddler stage. She said she thinks it’s fine then, that she only has a problem with it for babies.

My husband works for a company with a lot of engineers. It’s a very male-dominated workplace. Most of the females who work there and who have stayed on after having children have left their kids in daycare.

“People do it,” Mark tells me. I know they do. And I know it’s the best option available for a lot of people. And I know the kids survive and turn into wonderful people. But for my child, I believe that close, intimate one-on-one (or one on two) attention is the best thing for him at this age. I do believe that all children deserve this. And I think that, as a country, we fail to create the circumstances that give children the best start to life.

I think about the Canadians or the European countries where it is standard to allow at least one parent to stay with the child for the first three years (or a combination of the parents, so each takes a portion of the time off of work). After that, when the child is ready for socialization and interaction, there are government-sponsored preschools available. Due to the family leave policies, the child receives nurturing attention when they need it, they receive socialization and interaction when they need it, and the parent is able to continue on with their career when they are ready.

I’m also rethinking my assumption that private daycares are necessarily the best quality. Yesterday I read an article in the New York Times that claimed that 94% of nursing homes have health or safety violations. Like daycare, it made me think that should our society allow for caring for our parents, most people probably wouldn’t want to put their parents into one of these places if they could help it. The article also stated that the highest violation rates were at the private, for-profit nursing homes. Non-profits did the best job, followed by government homes. When my friend tells me she was offered $10-12 an hour to care for four infants and each parent is paying about $8.75 for the care of one infant, one wonders how much of the cost is going to quality and how much is going to profit.

All this is to say that I think the most vulnerable in our society, the infants and the elderly, deserve better. I know I’m living in an individualistic country. But I hold out hope that one day, people will realize that individuals are better off when people take care of each other.

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