Some new research on childcare

Reading through the threads and Twitter it looks like Judith has committed a huge faux pas. The luvvies are beside themselves. As best I can work out there are two sorts of criticisms – how dare Judith suggest that there are second-rate universities? The very cheek of it.

The second criticism is that Judith has belled the cat. Mind you, it isn’t being expressed in those terms. Childcare is no longer merely a mechanism whereby children are cared for in the absence of a parent, or family member, or family friend. Childcare is now a form of social engineering by the nanny state. So what is the story?

Andrew Leigh explains:*

One promising solution [to the cycle of disadvantage] is high-impact early childhood intervention programs. In the US, careful economic evaluations – based on randomised trials from the Abecedarian, Perry Preschool, and Early Training Projects – have shown that providing intensive assistance to disadvantaged children and their parents isn’t just morally right – it can be wildly cost-effective too.

These programs admitted children into preschool at an early age (sometimes as young as 4 months), and focused on developing cognitive, language, and social skills. The target population was extremely disadvantaged. From a young age, their IQ scores were below the US average. In the Perry Preschool program, two-thirds of girls in the control group had fallen pregnant in their teens, while more than half the boys had been arrested.

When researchers followed both the treatment and control groups, they found that those who received early childhood interventions were doing better on most measures than those in the control group. The programs cost A$15,000-50,000 per child, yet they easily paid for themselves in reduced welfare spending, higher tax revenues, and less crime.

There is more:

For the most part, societies like Australia and the US have been reluctant to intervene to provide parenting skills to those struggling to raise their children. Yet in our squeamishness about crossing the line between public and private, we may be missing out on the best opportunity to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty, or as Heckman puts it, the biggest credit constraint is the inability of a bright child to buy good parents.

Following up the groups as teenagers, the researchers found that those who received early childhood interventions had better cognitive and non-cognitive scores. As adults, the treatment group were more likely to have attended university, less likely to be unemployed, and less likely to be in jail. Although the programs was expensive, they more than paid for themselves in the long run. In the case of the Perry Preschool Program, the intervention cost about $US15,000 a child, but the benefits were $US105,000.

So here is the thing: if childcare is simply a mechanism to provide adult supervision in the absence of a parent, you don’t need a degree for that. If, on the other hand, the State wishes to embark on a massive poverty reduction program while providing “parenting skills to those struggling to raise their children” irrespective of whether parents need assistance or not, then you might need a degree for that.

Mind you, I’m not convinced that only people with degrees are fit to be parents. Yet all those people launching into Judith appear to be of that mind.

The other thing to note is that the evidence in this space is contested. A paper forthcoming in the Journal of Public Economics (HT: MJP) (ungated version here) suggests that social engineering aspects of child-care are overblown (emphasis added).

An important concern with much of this research is the insufficient attention paid to the potential endogeneity of child care choices. Families using non-parental arrangements may differ from those that do not in ways that cannot be fully accounted for even in richly specified child production functions. If these unobserved differences are correlated with measures of child development, a classic case of omitted variable bias arises, in which the estimated effect of nonparental care is confounded.

So what does he find?

I first show that children attending non-parental care are more economically advantaged than their peers in parent care. This positive selection suggests that OLS estimates of child care utilization are likely to be biased upward. I then recreate the standard OLS result in the literature that children attending non-parental care score higher on tests of cognitive ability, a result that holds when I account for individual fixed effects. However, the instrumental variables estimates point to sizeable negative effects of non-parental child care utilization. For example, baseline results for the measure of current participation suggest that test scores are approximately 0.29 standard deviations lower for children in non-parental settings. The negative effects are driven by participation in formal arrangements and are larger for children in economically advantaged families. Nevertheless, I show that disadvantaged children do not benefit from exposure to non-parental care.

Okay – this is just one study amongst many. But it should set the alarm bells ringing. It also undermines any social engineering arguments for childcare.

The important thing is this: regulatory interference is driving up the cost of childcare. What is it that people are paying for? For the mothers who place their children in childcare the first priority is that their children will well looked after, not that the carer has a degree.

* As always this is not an excuse for people to launch into Andrew.

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39 Responses to Some new research on childcare

  1. .

    Sinclair,

    They are angry at me because I am criticising VET teachers and VET organisations and how they have devalued ecuation generally by dumbing down a cert III to year seven level knowledge, all part of an elaborate union make work scam.

    The qualifications for working at a childcare centre I would consider as a parent would be:

    1. Pass a WWCC (Blue card in QLD)
    2. Enjoy the company of a pack of screaming, snotty, cantankerous tots.
    3. Basic 1st aid and maybe anaphylaxis.
    4. Have good customer service skills.
    5. Passed high school.
    6. Not a moonbeam.
    7. Don’t have a problem with alcohol or drugs.

  2. Gab

    These programs admitted children into preschool at an early age (sometimes as young as 4 months), and focused on developing cognitive, language, and social skills.

    Parents have been doing that for hundreds of years without a degree or certificate in childcare.

    The target population was extremely disadvantaged. From a young age, their IQ scores were below the US average.

    How does one measure IQ in a 4 month old baby? Or a three-year old toddler. Einstein didn’t speak until he was four year-old. By their criteria, Einstein would be regarded as retarded today.

    Following up the groups as teenagers, the researchers found that those who received early childhood interventions had better cognitive and non-cognitive scores.

    Better than if they had not received “childhood intervention”? They cannot possibly measure this.

    Here’s a lovely story of how the “professionals” intervened to make the parents feel inadequate and the child singled out as developmentally “challenged”. Turns out, he wasn’t but the “professionals” made their money in any case.

    It seemed that in the past six months, I had been worrying more about Vincent not graduating from the programme than his real speech development. Is this something that all parents have to face in the modern world – that our children have to meet more and more standards, otherwise either we, the parents,the children themselves, or perhaps both, are considered by professionals to be failing?

  3. H B Bear

    Like most forms of government intervention, childcare is simply the latest intrusion into what should be a voluntary form of exchange. Provided children are placed into a non-hazardous environment with people of known backgrounds (I have no problem with working with children checks) that should be the end it.

    The fact that certain forms of childcare benefit children of deadbeat parents shouldn’t come as any great surprise – nor should it be the basis for forcing up the childcare costs for the vast majority of non-deadbeat parents. Instead it serves as a Trojan horse for creeping credentialism, further tertiary qualifications undertaken by lower achieving students, more inspection and regulatory bureaucracy and increased numbers of people dependent on the benevolence of government to meet the increased costs that they themselves have created. And finally the reason it is so appealing to Labor – a more heavily unionised workforce.

    The idea that most parents require the dead hand of some Canberra public servant to provide them with the means to choose a form of childcare suitable to their own circumstances is laughable.

  4. Rafe

    Several decades ago I wrote a piece about the value of an enriched preschool environment for certain categories of people: I instanced Aborigines, non-English speaking migrants and the very poor (those were the days). There was no suggestion that kids from middleclass homes needed anything more than friendly carers. I would say now that the same applies to the “disadvantaged” groups, let them have toys and read some books to them. Very cheap. It could even be done by a friendly neighbour or shared with a “club” of mothers as many people explained when this issue arose before. Practically zero role for government.

  5. C.L.

    Andrew Leigh – the man who last week called for political punditry to be banned.

  6. egg_

    Andrew Leigh – the man who last week called for political punditry to be banned.

    Precisely, just as Gillard took a 6% dip in polling post the ‘blue ties’ speech.
    Censorship much?

  7. Rafe

    Accepting that the “very disadvantaged” need a better home environment the next step is to identify the role of the welfare state in generating disadvantage (Gough’s grandchildren, third generation welfare dependents) and to explore other ways to deliver services to those families, like local voluntary agencies.

  8. Leo G

    “How dare Judith suggest that there are second-rate universities”… without also questioning whether really there are any first-rate universities.

  9. Jim Rose

    Sinclair, I thought an important part of the gains were less murders, less crime and less prison time.

    these gains do not travel to Australia because of far fewer people in prison and less gun crime, less drug crime and few inner city ghettos. the value of life really pumps up the benefit-cost ratios.

    also, if two-thirds of girls in the control group had fallen pregnant in their teens, while more than half the boys had been arrested, they were a pretty wild bunch compared to most control groups.

  10. Menai Pete

    The essence of the problem is the social progression towards a degree for every occupation. An example is nurses who were provided with degree qualifications and now need nurses aides to do the dirty work that they once did. Basically this is an attempt to expose as many future workers to indoctrination (in second rate institutions) before they can earn a living.

  11. OldOzzie

    Interesting comment in Der Spiegel in article on Trapped in Apulia: Europe’s Deepening Refugee Crisis

    Italy doesn’t grant its citizens classic welfare benefits. Instead, it merely pays for various aid programs for the poor. When Italians lose their jobs, they usually receive support from their family

    As someone whose father died when I was one, leaving my Mother with 2 children and renting, she worked her butt off bringing us up including Catholic Schools and the the Golden Rule she instiiled into us, was that “The World does not owe you a living”

  12. Sinclair Davidson

    Jim Rose – I’m happy to concede that our American friends are a bit over-zealous in sending people to prison, I suspect Australians are under-zealous.

  13. Louis Hissink

    Second-rate universities? We in the physical sciences have a phrase for those institutions – “Enid Blyton Universities”.

  14. Paul CO

    “Every tin pot tech’s a university now” Alan Jones about 2004 – and he was right.

    It keeps parental electorate happy as Johnny and Jill can find a course to do. Then they make degrees mandatory for nursing and now child care and find they can’t get “qualified” staff and costs go through roof.

    Pseudo-academia is killing this country and it’s well described in the “Lucky Culture”. Not only is it an industrial disaster but a lot of these “graduates” think they know things and want to run the country.

  15. Tintarella di Luna

    “Every tin pot tech’s a university now” Alan Jones about 2004 – and he was right.

    Others call it the Dawkinsisation of high education

  16. Snoopy

    Judith’s observation about early childhood education graduates seems to be supported by Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) requirements. At the University of Sydney, the ATAR entry score for ECE is 79.05, the third lowest of all courses (the lowest is 70.1 for a course called Liberal Arts and Science???). At the University of Newcastle the ATAR requirement is just 60.5 at the Ourimbah campus which is the 8th lowest of all courses across two campuses (the lowest entry score being 60).

  17. Robert Blair

    My son (who is now 14) was placed with a Home Daycare lady (Mina) at about 9 months. It was the third place we tried.

    He stayed with Mina until he was 12, and is still friends with the children who went there.

    Mina was not trained, had no degree, but as a child carer she was awesome. She often took on children with profound problems, and turned them around. Mina often stayed up all night with sick children so that their parents could get some sleep.

    Mina did child care for the love of it – she didn’t need the money.

    There are hundreds of Mina stories that we tell, but my favourite is my son’s 4th birthday: all the children were in the petting zoo we had hired, the mothers around the BBQ watching. Mina came in (dressed up to the nines, in heels etc – as is her way) and all the children just ran out of the petting zoo and mobbed her, going “Mina! Mina!”.

    The mothers looked at each other and said: “Mina is their Mother Superior”.

    Well, Mina feels like these regulations are pushing her out of child care.

  18. Tintarella di Luna

    Not only is it an industrial disaster but a lot of these “graduates” think they know things and want to run the country.

    That’s why I drink grappa, practice.

  19. .

    FINALLY,

    People are starting to wake up.

    The growth of the VET sector, dumbed down degrees and mandatory quialifications, is hollowing out our economy from the inside out.

    It is the biggest economic issue we face save for our highly inefficient, punishingly usurious tax system.

  20. nic

    The important thing is this: regulatory interference is driving up the cost of childcare. What is it that people are paying for? For the mothers who place their children in childcare the first priority is that their children will well looked after, not that the carer has a degree.

    This is the whole point. Don’t bother complaining that childcare is too expensive and inaccessable, while at the same time demanding that the ‘teachers’ have adequate training so that Tarquin and Ffyona can get their first steps in learning Putonghua. I would argue that research would indicate that a less regulated ‘playtime’ in terms of outcomes is of greater benefit to children.

    Can’t have it both ways. Funnily enough, having blond, or ‘golden hair’ is enough qualification to get hired by a HK kindergarten.

  21. Snoopy

    (I have no problem with working with children checks)

    I do. Blue Cards do not provide any surety against a future offence.

    These checks exist mainly to show that government is ‘doing something’. They often disqualify people for offences (in fact a conviction is not necessary) most unlikely to ever affect their interaction with children.

    Meanwhile, despite paedophilia having an extremely high recidivism rate, governments allow convicted paedos to be released from jail.

  22. .

    Hmmm.

    Maybe just allow a PI to do one with a bit more accuracy, not the Yes/No ones we get from Government.

  23. Pedro

    “shown that providing intensive assistance to disadvantaged children and their parents isn’t just morally right – it can be wildly cost-effective too”

    Which is not really to the question of whether all childcare workers need to be highly trained. Even if we assume that child care should be more than baby and toddler sitting while waiting for school to start, the vast majority of children will not be disadvantaged to the degree he’s talking about. I really can’t believe the necessary training is more than a short diploma and a bit of on the job.

  24. Sinclair Davidson

    I really can’t believe the necessary training is more than a short diploma and a bit of on the job.

    Indeed.

  25. Cato the Elder

    I really can’t believe the necessary training is more than a short diploma and a bit of on the job.

    And a first aid certificate

  26. Jannie

    I would not trust somebody with a university education to look after my kids/grandkids, unless they were supervised by somebody who was qualified, namely taught by real life experience.

  27. Mother Hubbard's Dog

    Child care is just another form of middle class welfare. It is there to ensure that the middle class mums don’t have their working lives excessively interrupted by the inconvenience of having to care for young children.

    The reason for the creeping credentialism is that these mums, many of whom have degrees, don’t want someone less educated than themselves looking after their little darlings.

  28. nilk, Iron Bogan.

    As someone who was expected to get a WWCC if I wanted to assist at the sunday school my girl was attending, I find it quite offensive.

    As Snoopy rightly points out, it doesn’t provide any sort of surety. All it does is give you a card to wave that says, “I’m officially allowed near your child. I may have committed an offence, but no matter – I’ve not been caught yet.”

  29. Recent news reports reveal this is just another Union Membership boosting scam.

    Unionists more interested in providing a service to workers, rather than scoring a superannuation directorship must purge socialists from their organisations.

  30. Bozo

    Well when I was treasurer of our local childcare centre; the director with a 4 year degree struggled to calculate weight based paracetamol doses. No bother, I would have been the one with the non-delegable duty of care. Oh yeah, the office lady with the CertII (or was it III) in office administration couldn’t add a 2% surcharge to a bill.

    That was quite some time ago; and some good people left then when they upped the qualifications around 10 years ago. It’s really not rocket science is it!

  31. Jim Rose

    so what is been said is I am normal because I spent 1 year on kindergarden and do not remember it at all.

  32. Nato

    I just watched my first Q&A episode of the year. I’m not going to let anyone suck me in like that again. I sat through all of that fluff to hear one dog-whistle first-hand in context. *sigh*.
    How can anyone take that show seriously? It seemed like half an hour of people swapping their favourite tweets scattered through an ALP press statement. Good to see Thistlethwaite keeping up the dignity of a senator in public. I wouldn’t trust him with 20c, but the bloke’s not a bad Player.

  33. So here is the thing: if childcare is simply a mechanism to provide adult supervision in the absence of a parent, you don’t need a degree for that. If, on the other hand, the State wishes to embark on a massive poverty reduction program while providing “parenting skills to those struggling to raise their children” irrespective of whether parents need assistance or not, then you might need a degree for that.
    As an educator since 1968 and a parent since 1983, I can assure you Judith, that childcare is neither of these things.
    Childcare involves individuals working “in loco parentis”.
    If you’re OK for your kids to be parented for many hours per day by people who have the same skills and motivation as those flipping burgers at Maccas, that’s your problem.
    Most parents would place a value on their kids way above fast food.

  34. wreckage

    Most parents would place a value on their kids way above fast food.

    Oh kay… so we can keep escalating. “UNless your children are worth more to you than your tax return, they’re going to need more than a three year degree plus a year of training.”

    “Unless your children are worth more than a weather report, you’re going to need more than a Masters.”

    And so on.

    Hey if you can’t win on data, just beg the question!

  35. Megan

    If I had to choose between the experienced mum of four who ran family day care in my area without a degree and the majority of the students going through the early childhood degree at my place of work, it would be an absolute no brainer. (TM Mc457)

    A degree is a sign of persistence rather than intelligence or ability these days.

  36. .

    Childcare involves individuals working “in loco parentis”.
    If you’re OK for your kids to be parented for many hours per day by people who have the same skills and motivation as those flipping burgers at Maccas, that’s your problem.
    Most parents would place a value on their kids way above fast food.

    …again…most people don’t get a degree so they consider themselves worthy to procreatre…even people who have university degrees don’t do this.

    —————————————————————————————————————

    I am OUTRAGED that numbers would deride the fine staff of Oporto like that. I am a sometimes Oporto customer, now don’t judge me that I don’t cook for myself all of the time, I am a man who has made choices.

    He should apologise to the wonderful Oporto staff for his disgusting comments.

  37. Megan

    If you’re OK for your kids to be parented for many hours per day by people who have the same skills and motivation as those flipping burgers at Maccas, that’s your problem.

    Many of the students studying for degrees at my place of work are amongst those working at Maccas, flipping burgers and making sundaes.

  38. wreckage

    AS long as they make a buck flipping burgers instead of tossing salads, eh, numbers?

  39. JohnA

    When researchers followed both the treatment and control groups, they found that those who received early childhood interventions were doing better on most measures than those in the control group. The programs cost A$15,000-50,000 per child, yet they easily paid for themselves in reduced welfare spending, higher tax revenues, and less crime.

    To summarise the summary:
    An expensive system with sub-optimal outcomes for children, is capable of being made slightly less sub-optimal for the economy by spending more money.

    Well, we’ve just seen the government change leaders in mid-stream (again!) , but this reckless spending must stop!

    Child care costs of $150-250 per day – no wonder there is a huge subsidy scheme in place.

    If there wasn’t the market would quickly sort out that it was cheaper as well as better for mums to look after their own children, at home.

    Gee, eh…maybe those crazy Christians who love families, those freaking free-marketeers and those conniving conservatives managed to get something right – you think?

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