If all mothers are out working, which is what the Government seems to want, and most young children are in daycare, shouldn’t we closely examine the benefits of this aim from the point of view of mothers, children and society? The question is particularly relevant in light of the carers’ referendum on March 8th.
Many claims are made by politicians and others about the benefits of putting young children into daycare. A big one is that it creates a more equal society by closing achievement gaps among children from different socio-economic backgrounds. However, a new study  by the think tank Civitas challenges this and other claims made about daycare.
The report, called ‘Universal childcare: is it good for children? ’, is based on a big review of international research about the supposed benefits of daycare and one conclusion it arrives at is that the evidence does not strongly support the claim that it leads to a more equal society by improving the academic performance of less advantaged children.
While high-quality childcare can benefit older children (above three years) from disadvantaged backgrounds in the short term, it is unclear if these benefits last into adulthood or lead to better job prospects and earnings. There is little research showing a link between daycare and life-long benefits.
Any money spent by the State must be justified. The State is pouring lots of money into subsidising daycare. The burden of proof is on the State to demonstrate the benefits of this. That evidence seems to be much weaker than most people suspect.
To cut a long story short, other influences on a child are far stronger than time spent in daycare, unless the child is from a very poor and dysfunctional family in which case target subsidised daycare at this group rather than providing universal subsidies.
The Civitas report  says: “The research consistently finds that family characteristics, parenting and the home learning environment have a more significant influence on children’s development than childcare. These factors are also more important than family income. The quality of care a child receives in the home can be high or low, independent of the family’s socio-economic status. Formal childcare only offers development benefits for children if it replaces lower quality care. If a parent is able and willing to provide high quality care in the home, then long hours in formal childcare may be detrimental rather than beneficial for the child’s development”.
The reports also says that the effect of subsidised daycare on maternal employment is mixed and modest at best. Advocates says it increases employment rates among mothers, but even if this is a desirable outcome (it is only desirable if it is what mothers want), there is little evidence State-subsidised daycare has much effect on maternal employment rates either way.
Subsidised childcare may help mothers who avail of it financially, but it doesn’t necessarily empower all women, as it assumes all women prefer to work rather than care for their children at home. This overlooks the value many women place on raising their children themselves. This is a very relevant point in the context of the carers’ referendum.
The push to make it normal for children to be cared for by someone other than their mothers is based on a few assumptions: that moving childcare from homes won’t hurt children, parents, or society; that it’s more important for a mother to be involved in work than with her children and family; and that having a job is empowering and rewarding for women, while taking care of the home and children is not seen as valuable.
The report notes that “while these beliefs are influential in academic and political circles, evidence suggests that they are not representative of the values and beliefs of the general population.”
A survey commissioned by the Iona Institute  a few years ago found that only 17pc of respondents preferred to use day-care for their children under the age of five, while 49pc of respondents preferred to mind their offspring at home and a 27pc preferred a family member to do so.
The report by Civitas concludes that universal childcare has not shown the big benefits claimed by its advocates. The quality of daycare provided is critical, but it is hard to ensure that it surpasses the care provided by a loving family at home.
This being so, why is the Government so determined to have as many mothers as possible in the workplace and to end the Constitution’s commitment to try and protect mothers from being forced out of the home due to economic necessity?