THE LAST WORD

Government Subsidized Childcare

An aftermath of the Louise Woodward Nanny Trial?

Upon cross­ ing its threshold, one could not possibly have the heart to enroll one's child in it because the place stank.

Growing up in India, the idea of a babysitter was as foreign to me as that of welfare. The possibility that some stranger would care for your child with the attention and the love it deserved seemed unthinkable. As an explanation for the phenomenon of babysitters in the West, people often offered the Nanny Hypothesis—the theory that in America, the economic divide between servant and master was so small that the nanny became a member of the family and behaved as one.

It wasn't until I came here, became a mother, and hired babysitters, that I had an opportunity to test the hypothesis, with disastrous results.

My first caregiver was a woman who ran a family daycare in her home. She came highly recommended by my Mother's Support Group. The sight of her large television set blaring the day's soaps as babies crawled around made me cringe. But I had been to half a dozen such facilities already; some had dank rooms, others were over-crowded. A few were licensed; but in reality the State did little more than issue pieces of paper. If your child was mortally wounded, your only recourse was to sue.

I discovered then that most institutional daycare centers did not take infants. Although I had two teenage step-daughters at home, I did not rely on them for full­ time care, even in exchange for payment. Their priorities

were different from mine, I conjectured. If the recent Nanny Trial is any indication, I couldn't have been wiser.

So when my second child came along, I hired a babysitter to come to my home, and paid her well beyond my resources. A Filipina in her forties, she was responsible but stern, denying my children the one thing I'd hoped they would receive from a nanny at home affection. So, at ages two and three, my sons ended up in institutional daycare centers with hefty monthly fees and

changing staff.

I have since known babysitters who have been ready to diagnose my child with a psychological malaise at the slightest hint of misbehavior. I have dealt with pre-school teachers who have omitted to tell me that my child did not enter the swimming pool the whole summer long even though I continued to pay the fees. And I have come across caregivers who have truly enjoyed my children and nurtured them.

Through it all, I have learned an important lesson my instincts are the best guide when it comes to the care of my children. I have also learned that highly priced institutionalized centers are the optimum option for reliable care that can be monitored. The trouble is, there are so few of them around. And the ones that exist are either attached to churches or run by private contrac­ torswith little regulation and minimal supervision.

I was aghast to discover recently, for example, that an on-site, after-school daycare program, run in a facility rented from a public school, required no oversight from school administrators. Upon crossing its threshold, one could not possibly have the heart to enroll one's child in it because the place stank.

My kids will soon reach that shadowy age, too young for latch-key, too old for daycare. What will I do with them then?

Somewhere along the way, I have begun to question the very premise I have founded my life on; that I would never become a housewife like my mother, that I would never stifle my ambitions for the sake of my children. I now know that the best care a child can receive is from its parents; no daycare can replace it. But like so many mothers, 1 have never been in a family situation that allows me to stay at home. So the futile search for perfect

childcare continues. I

But does it have to be this way? Do we have to continue to be the only industrialized nation without government-subsidized childcare? Do we have to continue to pay our childcare workers less than we pay our check out clerks or our hamburger flippers? Why do we not demand some sort of standards for family as well as institutionalized daycare centers?

Government subsidized, licensed, and standardized childcare is essential if we are to be a civilized nation with a future. If the Nanny Trial is to serve a purpose, we ,must demand it from our politicians. ◻