Global daycare is not the answer

It could be argued that society is in pretty sad shape. Children, in particular, are suffering from a host of problems, including anxiety, obesity, aggression, ADHD, and depression, at the highest rates in history.

The new US Strategy on Global Women’s Economic Security is not going to help matters much. In fact, it could make things a whole lot worse. Jennifer Klein, director of the White House Gender Policy Council, said the goal of the initiative is to achieve “women's full and equitable participation in the global economy.” And Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the strategy prioritises “creating a world in which all women and girls everywhere can contribute to… economic growth and global prosperity. That’s a world in which we will all be better off.”

It certainly sounds good, but will we all really be better off?

If you look under the hood of this strategy as I did, you find the secret to how the Biden administration thinks the economic security and prosperity of women — and the world — will be achieved. It says, “The U.S. government has partnered with the World Bank and is leading diplomatic engagements to encourage partnerships in the recently launched global Invest in Childcare initiative, housed at the World Bank, which will expand access to quality child care and early learning programs globally.”

The intent of the strategy is to incentivise governments to take on the responsibility of providing childcare for virtually all children so that all mothers can “contribute to economic growth” by joining the public workforce.

Sweden and Quebec

Looking to Sweden can give us a clue as to how this might affect the rising generation. In Sweden, publicly funded, non-parental care has expanded over the last few decades, and now over 90 percent of all 18-month to 5-years-olds are in daycare. A government inquiry in 2006 found:

[M]ental health among Swedish 15-year-olds declined faster from 1986 to 2002 than in eleven comparable European countries. For girls, rates of poor mental health tripled during this period, from nine to 30 percent... The increase happened in all groups of youth regardless of family situation, labor market situation or parental socioeconomic status.

Similarly, the Canadian province of Quebec introduced subsidised universal daycare in the late 1990s. Roughly a decade later, a study showed “striking evidence” that children in the program were “worse off in a variety of behavioural and health dimensions, ranging from aggression to motor-social skills to illness.” The analysis also indicated that participation in the program “led to more hostile, less consistent parenting, worse parental health, and lower-quality parental relationships.”


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A follow-up study years later showed many problems were worsening over time and that “boys in day care showed more hyperactivity and aggression, while girls showed more separation anxiety.” There was also a sharp increase in criminal behaviour among those who participated in the Quebec program.

While these troubling developments cannot be blamed solely on disassociation from parents, one is left to wonder what impact being removed from the care of their mothers in the early years of their lives has had on the population of Sweden and Quebec, and what impact it might have elsewhere.

Do mothers have anything to do with child well-being?

Jenet Jacob Erickson, a researcher specialising in maternal and child well-being, says,

“It appears that through the uniquely attuned interactions of a mother, a child develops an ‘internal working model’ for understanding and experiencing all other relationships. When the attachment relationship is secure, the infant… develop(s) the capacity to appreciate, understand and empathize with the feelings of others.”

Conversely, when a child’s attachment to her mother is inconsistent or insecure, the infant can develop “a mistrusting orientation”, which often “prevents the child from developing appropriate social regulatory mechanisms.” If not addressed, this “may develop into feelings of depression, anxiety, aggression” and other socially maladaptive behaviours.

In short, Erickson says that when children experience consistent, loving, reliable interactions with their mothers during their earliest years of life, this “enables children to develop the moral awareness and responsibility that forms the underpinnings of their moral behaviour beyond infancy” and often for the balance of their lives.

While mothers need not be with their children constantly, it is difficult for little children to receive the emotional sustenance they need if their mothers are consistently absent. Psychologist Erica Komisar says,

“According to a Pew research study, working parents spend on average 1½ hours per day with their young children, which is not enough to provide them with a foundation of emotional security.”

While research does not show that spending time in daycare is a death sentence to a child’s development, is it possible that increased maternal absence may have something to do with the deteriorating state of our children and our society today?

Komisar thinks so. She says “the effects of maternal absence on children” is a “major social issue of our time.” Is it possible that initiatives like the US Strategy on Global Women’s Economic Security that prioritises getting mothers away from their children might make things worse? Perhaps a world where women can prioritise time with their babies and contribute to economic growth is “a world in which we will all be better off.”

As we watch society careen toward self-destruction like a dumpster fire on wheels, it might make sense to consider whether prioritising and facilitating a mother’s time with her young children just might be the best investment in the future of the world that can possibly be made.


Kimberly Ells is the author of The Invincible Family: Why the Global Campaign to Crush Motherhood and Fatherhood Can't Win. Follow her at Invincible Family Substack.

Image: Pexels

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