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Jewish World Review March 9, 1999 /21 Adar 5759

Don Feder

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Day-care study defies common sense

( WHEN A PUBLIC POLICY STUDY contradicts common sense, go with practical wisdom.

Elizabeth Harvey, a psychologist at the University of Massachusetts and author of a study published in the March issue of Developmental Psychology, says she found no difference in the development of "children whose mothers were employed vs. children whose mothers were not employed'' during the first three years of life.

Flashing her agenda, Harvey admits: "Working mothers have a lot of guilt. I hope this study will alleviate some of that guilt.''

Actually, parents who casually warehouse their kids could use a healthy dose of anxiety.

Though the study doesn't distinguish among various child-care arrangements (including care by relatives), it's being used as an endorsement of institutional day care, favored by the first feminist.

Widespread complacency about day care is wildly incongruous. Yuppies who believe class size is crucial to learning and that they can increase their children's IQ by playing Mozart in the nursery think leaving newborns with strangers for eight to 10 hours a day has no negative impact.

Psychologist Urie Bronfenbrenner believes the requirements of healthy emotional development in children include: "a strong, mutual, irrational emotional attachment (to someone) who is committed to the child's well-being and development, preferably for life.''

And this commitment is to come from a hired "caregiver'' who may have difficulty remembering your child's name from one day to the next?

Newborns and infants are responsive to stimuli and in need of sensory input. During the third week of life, babies will smile when they hear their mother's voice.

Mother-child bonding provides the foundation for security and trust in future relationships. To imagine that it can be established in an hour or two of quality time each day transcends wishful thinking.

Child-care centers fail in the best of circumstances. In most, conditions are less than ideal.

In his article on day care in the May-June 1998 issue of American Enterprise, editor Karl Zinsmeister quoted a letter from a mother with a master's degree in social psychology on her visit to what she considered one of the best child-care chains.

"What I saw broke my heart. Babies were lined up, six in a row, crying, waiting for their meals. Toddlers were still in their cribs, some with tear-stained cheeks . . . with looks of having given up any hope of personal attachment a long time ago.''

The answer, say those who want your child raised by the mythical village, is increased government funding so parents of modest means can afford quality day care.

William and Wendy Dreskin operated such a center in San Francisco for five years. Its ratio of children to workers was low. It had ample equipment and an excellent curriculum. Teachers all had degrees plus at least a year of graduate training.

In their book, "The Day Care Decision,'' they wrote, "For two years we watched . . . children respond to the stress of separation from their parents with tears, anger, withdrawal or profound sadness, and we found, to our dismay, that nothing in our own affection and caring for these children would erase this sense of loss and abandonment.''

The Dreskins relate that they were "so distressed by these discoveries'' that eventually they closed their quality center.

Significantly, Harvey's study stopped with 12-year-olds, just before the teen years when emotional problems created by early separation from mothers surface.

One expert on child development told me that even teen rebellion isn't the ultimate indicator, which is too elusive to be quantified. "How do you measure self-worth? How do you measure the amount of trust in other human beings, or the strength of attachment to marital partners and children?''

Dr. Stanley Greenspan, a professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the George Washington University School of Medicine, observes that for the first time ever, there's a growing trend for middle-class families "to farm out the care of their babies.''

Greenspan predicts: "People may become more self-centered and less concerned with others . . . Impulsive behavior, helplessness and depression may increase.''

A March 1998 Washington Post survey showed 68 percent of Americans believed it would be better if mothers cared for their children at home. They're right. Trust instincts bolstered by experience over a cause-driven academic study.


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©1999, Creators Syndicate