Katherine Mangu-Ward on the Suckiness of American Day Care (And How More Government Won't Fix It)


Day care sucks. In most big cities, demand wildly outstrips supply. Waiting lists are comically long—parents regularly confess to putting their fetuses into the queues at several day care centers and preschools. And Jonathan Cohn's story in The New Republic, "The Hell of American Day Care," which opens with the grisly story of in-home day care proprietor Jessica Tata who left her young charges to die in a fire has been making the rounds, forwarded by anxious parents and policymakers.  

But I tell the story of another day care at Zocalo Public Square today:

A woman named Millie, whom I recall primarily as a blurry face surrounded by a wild mane of dark hair, ran the place out of her basement. One of her specialties was homemade Play-Doh and she had a sandbox in her backyard. Millie was a godsend for my mom, who was heading back to work part-time after staying home with her young kids for a few years, in part because Millie was willing to accommodate non-standard schedules. The only flies in the ointment were Millie's neighbors. Perhaps they didn't like the hustle and bustle of a house full of kids. Maybe early morning drop-off was disruptive on their quiet street. So they waited and they watched. On occasion, Millie would cut one of her maxed-out clients some slack, allowing a kid to come earlier or stay later than the formal schedule dictated. This meant that she was over her allowed quota of kids when an inspector, called in by the irate neighbors, showed up. Millie's day care was unceremoniously shut down, leaving my parents scrambling for coverage and (very likely) leaving Millie's family financially in the lurch.

Regulations, even the most well-intentioned, are not without cost. The same rules that try (and sometime fail) to keep unscrupulous players from storing stacks of babies in a utility closet can be used by grumpy neighbors (or competitors) to force a useful and beloved community institute to shut down without warning.

Read the whole thing.