Destroying child care to 'help' it: Part III

State child-care regulators follow views of well-meaning zealots, not parents

By Steven Miller
  • Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Parents in Nevada weren't pushing for a make-over of private child care across the state. So why did state government set out to force it?

Amber Howell, acting deputy administrator for the state division of child and family services, told lawmakers in April that "external stakeholders" helped Nevada's regulators conclude that "major revisions" to Nevada's rules were needed in order "to raise the bar based on national standards."

This fits a national pattern of the central players in the transformation of child care being not parents, but devotees of certain current child-development doctrines.

Congressman George Miller (D-Calif.), a powerful player for decades in the effort to nationalize child care, once confessed that the "child-care movement" that he and others had frequently pointed to was largely the shadow play of special-interest zealotry.

"The fact is," boasted Miller, "that I spent eight years in getting the [1989] child care bill passed in Congress, and at its zenith, there was never a child-care movement in the country.

"There was a coalition of child-advocacy groups, and a few large international unions that put up hundreds of thousands of dollars, and we created in the mind of the leadership of Congress that there was a child-care movement — but there was nobody riding me. And not one of my colleagues believed that their election turned on it for a moment. There wasn't a parents' movement."

What unifies the child-care advocacy coalition Miller mentioned is the common belief that parents are not competent to select their children's care-givers. They agree with Hillary Rodham Clinton that parents "don't know what is quality," and, "[i]f somebody's nice to them, it doesn't matter that they don't know the difference between caring for a 1-year-old or a 4-year-old."

This lack of respect for choices made by children's parents has an important, but rarely stated corollary: It is that they, the proponents and experts on current theories of early-childhood education, must set state and national rules to "protect" children from the "bad" choices their parents would make, if allowed to exercise their own traditional values.

Here in Nevada, as elsewhere, the result has been a covert regulatory effort to remove from the child-care marketplace licensees who decline to offer the ideologues' favorite developmental regimen.

Making that approach mandatory under state regulations, it was apparently thought, would ensure that low-income parents would be channeled into placing their children in forms of care preferred by child-education-establishment "experts." The possibility that parents might see their best option, all things considered, as moving their children into less costly unlicensed care seems to have been discounted.

Evident throughout this entire episode has been lack of respect for the choices that parents make in behalf of their children. And because this is not an isolated case, Nevada parents need to be alert.

The mindset involved here permeates modern government and is especially rampant in efforts to collectivize and nationalize preschool child care. So long as the professed goal is to "help" people — whether or not people want such "help" — this mindset recognizes few limits on where it can use the cattle-prod of government power.

An illuminating example is the prestigious National Research Council, often the fountainhead of advocacy coalition initiatives. Demonstrating a clear bias toward social engineering, the NRC has left little doubt about its desire to subordinate the rights and responsibilities of parents to government schemes, designed by researchers, to plan for "all families."

"Preserving parents' choices in the care and rearing of their children is essential; however, it has to be balanced against the need to plan and coordinate services in a way that ensures their quality and accessibility to all families who need them," announced the council.

The council has asked the federal government to set up a task force to develop national standards for every aspect of child care. To serve on that task force, the council recommended everyone from state politicians to full-blown federal agencies. There was one important exception: Parents were excluded.

Regularly the attempt to achieve Utopia through governmental regulation ends up making things worse. Zealots — deeply invested in the notion that many people cannot stand on their own — regularly engineer coercive governmental schemes that victimize and foreclose opportunities for the very people the schemes are supposed to help.

Here in Nevada, our poorer families will — if the child-care regulators' schemes go forward — be the primary victims of the state's effort to "help" those same families receive child care of the sort they frequently decline.

Heaven preserve us from "helpful," government-empowered experts.

Steven Miller is vice president for policy at the Nevada Policy Research Institute.

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