Accuracy in Media

The vast majority of parents believe that children do better when taken care of at home, surveys show. Yet child-care “experts” overwhelmingly support the notion that institutional day care is just as good as, if not better than, the care provided by parents. Why such a disparity?

Brian C. Robertson examines this and several related questions in his recently published Day Care Deception: What the Child Care Establishment Isn’t Telling Us (Encounter Books). Robertson, a fellow at the Family Research Council, discussed his book on October 31 at Accuracy in Academia’s inaugural luncheon.

Having combed through decades of child-care research, Robertson offers impressive evidence that domestic care – especially maternal care – is significantly better for children than institutional day care. He cites study after study showing that children who spend a significant amount of time in commercial day-care centers are more likely to have problems behaviorally, emotionally, and even physically.

In one comprehensive study, children who spent more than 30 hours a week in day care were almost three times as likely to exhibit aggressive and disruptive behavior as those who were in day care less than 10 hours a week. Others research cited by Robertson shows that children in day-care centers are much more likely to suffer from respiratory illnesses, inner-ear infections, SIDS, hepatitis A, and many other diseases.

But even more disturbing than the statistics themselves is the way they have been received in academia and the media. Radical feminist ideology is so dominant in universities, Robertson says, that research reflecting negatively on day care is often ignored, suppressed, or even attacked. In the “intensely politicized world of child care research,” the mere suggestion that day care may have negative effects on children can put one’s career in jeopardy, as Jay Belsky can attest.

As a psychology professor at Penn State, Belsky won praise for his early studies suggesting that day care had no detrimental impact on children. As he continued his research, however, Belsky began to uncover a correlation between behavioral problems and time spent in day care.

Upon publishing his findings, Belsky discovered that there was a price to be paid for violating the day-care orthodoxy. “Overnight, he became persona non grata,” Robertson writes. Belsky found himself attacked for his research, shunned at psychological conferences, and accused by his colleagues of being a “closet misogynist.”

In other cases, Robertson points out, researchers have simply caved in to feminist pressure. The famous Dr. Benjamin Spock used to advise strongly against putting young children in day care: “There’s nowhere near enough attention or affection to go around,” he argued. But Dr. Spock changed his tune in later editions of his popular books: “Parents who know that they need a career ? for fulfillment,” he wrote in 1992, “should not give it up for the sake of the children.” Was this reversal the result of new scientific evidence? No, Dr. Spock admitted, it was because working mothers had attacked him for making them feel guilty: “So I just tossed it. It’s a cowardly thing that I did.”

One of the main reasons for the day-care bias, says Robertson, is the fact that many academics are themselves working mothers who routinely put their children in day-care centers. With such a personal interest in the child-care debate, these researchers are loath to publish any data that reflect unfavorably on commercial day care.

Sandra Scarr is one prominent example of how personal bias and conflicts of interest have compromised academic honesty, Robertson reports. Scarr, one of the biggest names in the field of child-care research, has spent a significant part of her career with one foot in academia and the other in the day-care industry. In 1990, while a psychology professor at the University of Virginia, Scarr joined the board of directors of KinderCare Inc., the largest day-care chain in the U.S.

Not until 1995, when she was named CEO of KinderCare, did Scarr leave her professorship. But Scarr continued her academic writing on child development while heading the corporation, even serving as president of the American Psychological Society in 1996-97.

In light of this double role, Scarr’s vehement support of day care should come as no surprise. In her writings Scarr has claimed that infant brains are “Jell-O,” that babies have no particular need for their mothers, and that research showing the detrimental effects of day care is simply “backlash against the women’s movement.”

Academia isn’t the only institution with a bias in favor of day care, Robertson states: “Media coverage of day care is one-sided and riddled with conflicts of interest.” Just like their academic counterparts, many reporters have a personal stake in the day-care issue. As former CBS correspondent Bernard Goldberg has noted, “America’s newsrooms are filled with women who drop their kids off someplace before they go to work,” a fact which helps explain why news reflecting favorably on day care is much more likely to make the front page.

In 1999, when psychologist Elizabeth Harvey released a study suggesting that children in day care do just as well as their peers, newspapers across the country seized upon the findings: “Keep Your Day Job, Mom: Study Suggests Kids Will Be Fine,” read one headline. But the mainstream press significantly overstated the results, Robertson says, often failing to report that the study’s sample was heavily skewed towards poor, minority families and single mothers.

At about the same time, Robertson writes, Jay Belsky published a methodologically superior study indicating that day-care institutions had significant negative effects on children. The study went virtually unreported in the news media.

Such double standards are chronicled at length in Day Care Deception. When most news concerning day care comes from feminist journalists reporting the findings of feminist researchers, it is little wonder that governments and corporations often operate under the assumption that institutional day care should be the norm for all children. Robertson’s well-researched, candid, and often unsettling expos? provides some greatly needed balance to the day-care debate.

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