Parents And Government
AUGUST 01, 1993 by DUNCAN SIMPSON
Mr. Simpson is an attorney-at-law practicing in Dallas, Texas.
Not too long ago there was an exposé on one of the network “tabloid” news programs. It had a profound effect on everyone I knew who had seen it. The exposé concerned the deplorable level of day-care treatment at a number of private day-care centers in a suburban area near our home.
Needless to say, this program prompted the local media to strike the chord. The network program had showed scenes of day-care workers hitting infants who cried too much and of the workers failing to provide any form of hygiene. It inflamed those who rely on day care so that both parents can work, and who inevitably carry guilt in their briefcase for leaving their infants with strangers. Saddest was the response of the parents of one of the abused children when the network showed them tapes of their own child being struck. The pain resounded. The media carried the torch, interviewing the parents and operators and stirring everyone’s ire.
The local constabulary and politicos responded in Pavlovian fashion, threatening the prosecution of these day-care owners, the enactment of strict licensing laws, and the enrollment of a veritable army of inspectors to remedy the situation and to prevent additional abuses in the future. National “leaders” also responded with Congressional hearings, solemn declarations about the need for federal oversight of the rearing of children, and so on. The response portends further intrusion into the personal lives and obligations we all owe to our family and children.
The controversy struck particularly close to home because we have a three-year-old. We envisioned ourselves as that couple viewing the beating of their own child. It also prompted heated discussion about the role of government and caused me to reevaluate my own role as a public servant.
At the time of the brouhaha, I was serving as a federal prosecutor, one who ostensibly was a guardian of the rights of these citizens. I began to question my role as one who upholds the public image of a “great provider” government. It became obvious to me the children had suffered because of the total abdication of the role of the parents in supervising the affairs of their own families and in failing to hold every service provider to the highest standards, especially when it involves the lives of children.
What, I asked myself, had caused this widespread abdication? I responded to comments from other parents, who universally said that stricter licensing rules were needed for day-care centers, by chastising them and saying that what we actually need is unrestricted day-care providers. I was deemed a lunatic and mocked by even our most libertarian friends. Their response clarified the problem in my mind. It was not merely the politicians’ response that should be deplored, but, more importantly, the indifference of parents.
When government intrudes into the personal lives of its citizenry to establish guidelines, regulations, and licensing requirements, it removes from the individual the awareness that he must be a cautious consumer of goods and services. This governmental intrusion establishes an “acceptable” level of service or quality that too many rely on to their detriment or the detriment of their families. It has the interesting effect of spilling over into areas that are not regulated. For example, the essentially unregulated day-care market thrived, even for those who abused children, because the parents did not effectively scrutinize and inspect the day-care centers. Rather than dropping the baby off at 8:00 a.m. and picking him up at 5:00 p.m., the parents need to take an active role in making unannounced visits, and to encourage the participation of other parents in the affairs of the day-care center. That is the consumer vigilance that would assure that only the most pristine and proper day-care operators would remain in business.
I then asked several of my friends how often they dropped in, uninvited, at their child’s day- care center, or spoke at length with the owner or interviewed other parents about the service provided. Few said that they had ever pursued any action when they saw that their child appeared happy at the center. It was a sad commentary on the dependence of government standards, even where none exist.
When we finally put our child into a school each day, we interviewed many other parents; my wife spent almost an entire day observing our son’s interaction with the teachers at the school; we reviewed each teacher’s credentials; and I checked on the sanitary conditions very carefully. Most importantly, I was encouraged by the owners’ open invitation to drop by unannounced, and by their sponsorship of a very active parents’ association. I have, on at least six occasions in the three months he has been in that school, dropped in uninvited, and have spoken with the owner each time. I am never satisfied that my son is getting the same care he would at home, but he is getting a structured learning that we could not provide. He also thrives on playing with his gleeful little classmates.
Since the television programs aired, no state legislation or city ordinances of any import have been passed to regulate the day-care centers. The foment has subsided. All I can hope is that the parents of some children learned a lesson and have become wiser purchasers of care for their children, their most precious possession.