This past week Statistics Canada released a report entitled Child care: An eight year profile alleging that "the proportion of children in child care has increased significantly." Daycare lobbyists, funded primarily by – you guessed it – taxpayers, were quick to jump on this report as further evidence of a growing daycare crisis in Canada. They are demanding that the spigots be opened and that Canadian taxpayers foot the bill for their dream of an expansive, national daycare system, run by – you guessed it again – the daycare lobbyists. The only problem is that the Statistics Canada report says no such thing. If anything, the numbers suggest the opposite.
According to the report, 54 percent of Canadian children between the ages of 6 months and 5 years, (in other words, pre-schoolers), were in some form of child care at the time the study was done. But of that 54 percent, only 28 percent were receiving that child care in some sort of daycare centre. That means that among the group of children included in the study, only 15.1 percent were in daycare. In short, the most popular choice of child care by far remains parental care, and even among those parents who leave their children in the care of others when they go to work or school, 72 percent choose alternatives to daycare.
The very term 'child care' adds to the confusion. Daycare lobbyists purposely use the term 'child care' as a substitute for ‘daycare’ because research has shown that the word ‘daycare’ has a negative connotation. As a result, the public increasingly regards the two terms as synonymous. Nothing could be further from the truth though.
Consider, for instance, the case of a two parent family where dad works full-time and mom volunteers part-time at the local shelter while grandma looks after their two and four year old children in their home. According to this study these children are in 'child care', not daycare, an observation all would agree with. But when daycare lobbyists substitute the term child care for what they are really seeking, they get to use this not-uncommon family arrangement as evidence of their claim that there is a crisis.
Statistics Canada itself is not innocent of the charge of muddying the waters. In the first three paragraphs of Child care: An eight year profile the authors make two sins of commission and one of ommission that mislead casual readers and cause one to suspect that they have their own agenda.
To begin with, setting aside the problem with the term 'child care', the report claims that "the proportion of children in child care has increased significantly." Well, that may be true if one compares the latest numbers to those gathered 8 years ago, which is what they have done. But what happened to last year’s report? On February 7, 2005 the same department reported that the proportion of children in some form of child care was 53 percent. The increase from then to now was a mere 1 percentage point, but since this doesn’t fit the narrative of a significant increase, one searches in vain for that information. It’s as though last year’s report never existed.
Next, the report states that of the three forms of care "each accounted for around 30 percent of all children in child care."
What? Around 30 percent? Is this a report or advertising?
In fact, of the 54 percent of children in 'child care', the percentage cared for by relatives or non-relatives outside the home but who were not in daycare, was 30 percent each. The percentage in daycare, on the other hand, was 28 percent. To the uninitiated, the three arrangements appear almost equal, but to trained researchers, the difference between 28 and 30 percent is 7 percent, a statistically significant spread which cannot be dismissed. No matter though – when the numbers don’t quite fit the narrative, don’t lie, obfuscate. Round them up to about 30 percent when you really mean 28. Every little bit helps.
Finally, suspicions are raised by what the report does not state in its general introduction – that there was a sharp decline in the proportion of children aged 6 to 11 months in child care from last year’s report, 44 percent to 29 percent.. To be fair, this fact was included, but one had to read the whole document rather than the introduction to find it.
What makes this statistic important is that, considered in combination with the inconsequential increase in the proportion of pre-school children in ‘child care’ during the same time period, it could be interpreted as a trend toward parental care among younger families. Indeed, the authors of the report were bothered enough by this that they felt compelled to speculate that this may be due to the increased availability of parental leave. If true, this would certainly spell trouble for the daycare lobby. It would be just one more indication that parents prefer to care for their children themselves, given the opportunity. As far a social policy goes, expanding parental leave benefits may be superior to, and vastly more popular than investing in daycare.
Does all of this mean that the research is flawed and cannot be trusted?
Surprisingly – no. Although the government is often guilty of tailoring studies to arrive at a conclusion that supports its own policies, much of the research that has been done on this subject has been very good. Not perfect mind you, but good. The problem is not with the research as much as it is with researchers themselves who misuse the data and manipulate their presentation to buttress the case for policy options they themselves prefer for ideological reasons.
The time has come for politicians and public alike to look beyond the facade and to recognize the daycare lobby for what it is: a small group of elitist ideologues whose salaries are largely paid for by taxpayers through government grants and subsidies, and who are misrepresenting and manipulating the facts in order to pressure us into giving them more of our money to build an empire for themselves that Canadians neither need, nor want.
It may not quite be extortion, but it certainly is a con game, and it’s well past time for it to stop.