Andrea Mrozek, Institute of Marriage and Family executive director, is not surprised by a university study showing Quebec’s day care system produces more boys who will become involved in criminal behaviour. Photo by Deborah Gyapong

Quebec day care more apt to produce criminals, study shows

  • October 1, 2015

OTTAWA - Boys enrolled in Quebec’s universal child-care program are more likely to partake in criminal behaviour than boys from other provinces, a new study has found.

A study of the long-term impacts of Quebec’s $7-a-day child care program released in September reveals an increase in criminal behaviour and a decrease in health and life satisfaction.

“Most strikingly, we find a sharp and contemporaneous increase in criminal behaviour among the cohorts exposed to the Quebec program, relative to their peers in other provinces,” said the authors of “Non-Cognitive Deficits and Young Adult Outcomes,” Michael Baker, Jonathan Gruber and Kevin Milligan, who come from the University of Toronto, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and University of British Columbia respectively.

The authors report an “increase in crime rates” among those who were exposed to the child care program.

“We also find that these effects are concentrated in boys, who also see the largest deterioration in non-cognitive skills,” they write. “Our results reinforce previous research emphasizing the importance of non-cognitive development for later-life outcomes, and also provide an important input for the current debate over child care policy.”

The study concluded Quebec day care “had a lasting negative impact on the non-cognitive skills of exposed children, but no consistent impact on their cognitive skills.”

“At older ages, program exposure is associated with worsened health and life satisfaction, and increased rates of criminal activity. Increases in aggression and hyperactivity are concentrated in boys, as is the rise in the crime rates,” the study found. “The implications of these findings for early child care policy are profound.

“They provide strong support for the argument that non-cognitive development is a crucial determinant of the long-term success of child care programs.”

The report landed in the middle of the Canadian election campaign, where the New Democrats have pledged nationwide $15-a-day child care modelled on the Quebec system. The Liberals have touted universal child care programs in the past, but have focused on replacing present Conservative supports for families with a Canada Child Tax Benefit. The study seemed more aimed, however, at American policy makers.

Institute of Marriage and Family Canada executive director Andrea Mrozek said she doubts the study was released to coincide with the election campaign or that its authors have a partisan agenda. She noted Milligan had also criticized the Conservative’s income-splitting policy.

“That lends credibility to their project in general,” she said. “They are not partisan, and not constantly taking a right wing or conservative line in their research.”

Mrozek said she did not find the results surprising.

“The more I start reading about attachment research the less surprising these results become.”

Mrozek cited the work of Dr. Gabor Mate and Dr. Gordon Neufield on attachment theory and their book Hold on to Your Kids: Why parents matter more than peers, which shows the importance for young children of stable relationships with caregivers to develop proper attachment.

“They learn to trust those who care for them,” Mrozek said.

“When you put small children in large groups of other small children, they begin to attach to their peers rather than adults,” she said. “Children can only learn how to be adults from adults; they cannot learn to be adults from other children.”

Mrozek added that “No developmental psychologist thinks sending children into institutional environments early is a good idea.”

“By the age of five or six, kids are strong enough to be set out into the world without being as subject to peer pressure.”

Signs of poor attachment that unfold over time can make children “become more defiant and belligerent more easily and to look for affirmation from their peers and not their parents,” she said.

“Incidentally, this is not to say no day care can ever be done well. We don’t live in a culture that values attachment and tends not to prioritize it.”

The recent study shows that small targeted programs for disadvantaged children can have beneficial results. Mrozek said the problem comes with a mass system, because when a program is universalized, it is “almost impossible to do it well because of the sheer cost.”

“Group size matters; the age at which one enters care matters; the stability of the caregiver really matters,” she said.

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