A False Dilemma

Four million American babies will be born in 1998, joining their 12 million older preschool brothers and sisters. Recent research in the neurosciences and psychology tells us with ever greater clarity and specificity that nurturing and emotionally satisfying relationships with adult caregivers during the early years of life are of central importance in ensuring that these children develop their potential.

A child’s education begins at day one. What children learn, and the habits of mind on which cognition, emotional well-being, and moral awareness depend, are the product of the thousands of little interactions that children have with the important people in their lives. To an extent that will never again be equaled over the life span, a child’s learning depends critically on human relationships.

That babies are born helpless and dependent and need years of care is not disputed. But how American children are to receive the care they need is a subject of contentious debate. Well over half of mothers are back at work before their child is a year old. The vast majority of fathers haven’t picked up a fair share of the time it takes to run a household and care for the children. Unlike nearly all other industrialized countries, U.S. corporate and government policies are woefully inadequate in addressing the child care needs of families with young children, and millions of children are being put at substantial risk because of inadequacies in the nation’s child care system.

Excellent affordable care is very scarce. The majority of child care workers are poorly trained and poorly paid. Paid parental leave for work is almost nonexistent, and the 12-week unpaid leave afforded by recent legislation does not even apply to most mothers because they work in jobs exempt under the provisions of the law.

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Sojourners Magazine May-June 1998
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