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Good, quality child care comes in all forms, not just in public institutions as many in the “Ottawa bubble” would have us believe. CNS photo/Theresa Laurence

In child care, time to burst Ottawa’s bubble

By  Andrea Mrozek
  • May 11, 2023

“By the fifth year of life if everything is continuous and safe then emotional intimacy begins… The first issue is always to establish strong, deep emotional connections with those who are raising you. And that should be our emphasis in society. If we did this, we would send our children to school late, not early.”

These are the words of Dr. Gordon Neufeld, Canadian developmental psychologist. And among the many ideas the committee just now concluding their consideration of Bill C-35, An Act respecting early learning and child care in Canada did not consider, this one rises to the top. The ethos of today’s policy makers across the board is precisely the opposite. Whether we call it “early learning and child care” or “full day-kindergarten” we send our kids to school very early. Increasingly, politicians push us to place our babies into third party care for adult full-time hours and then demand applause, like trained seals. It’s supposed to be progress.

Quantity of care, and ideas surrounding deep, emotional connection never darken decision makers’ doors in child care policy discussions. Dr. Neufeld never appeared before committee. And neither did a host of other well-known Canadian scholars with directly relevant peer-reviewed research. As a result, there is good research and data entirely absent from the public record.

Without those voices, there’s a “consensus” that early intervention is always better, that private care is vastly inferior to public and that quality of care is primarily measured by teacher qualifications. When my colleague Peter Jon Mitchell did testify as one of the rare witnesses representing only families, not day cares or unions, he was promptly told his information contradicted what other witnesses had said about the nature of good quality care.

This points rather obviously to an overarching homogeneity of witnesses and a lack of creativity in seeking out contrary thinkers. This is the Ottawa bubble at its finest — an example of a “state seeing like a state,” to cite the 1998 book with the subtitle How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed. Those who are part of big centralized government are more likely to think big centralized government is a solution, even in areas where it decidedly is not. For people holding a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Should those in the bubble condescend to dialogue, they will say their taxpayer-financed scheme for daycare is another choice among many, and those who do not prefer it simply need not choose it. This is one of their most contradictory claims. On the one hand, by design, they point to but one way to do high-quality child care. They preach this loudly with the enthusiasm of TV evangelists, again and again. Then they tell parents to make whatever choices they want. This, after pouring bags of public money into their preferred form of care.

I do not prefer centre-based care. But financial and social pressures matter and I could not lay claim to this being an easy path. A taxpayer-funded system skews incentives and choices by design and thus influences parents in ways that cannot be avoided. Woe betide the parent who wants a preschooler to take a class at a community centre during business hours — everything is stacked up after adults’ work (and therefore child care) is done.

Dr. Neufeld recently spoke about the folly of forcing kids to hurry toward independence. Pushing for early independence in children, he said, is tantamount to pulling at a plant to hurry its growth. Further, we need to depend on those who love us — this is a feature of the good life. Instead, so much of what we see from the community of child care experts is akin to cajoling a tulip to bloom. Grade 1 is the new grad school — your kid better be ready and prepared.

The Bill C-35 committee is concluding its consideration as I write. It is not terribly surprising, though it remains disappointing, that its definition of child care is very narrow. But outside the Ottawa bubble, there’s still reason for optimism. Learning over a lifetime happens in many different ways and places and “early learning and child care” — well, those words might not mean what some think they mean. For the smallest of souls, if we honour their development, we’d send them to school late, not early. It’s never too late (or too early) to make unique child care choices.

(Mrozek is a Senior Fellow with Cardus.)

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