Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Debating Motherhood

We had one of the shortest agendas of the year last night for our Council/Committee of the Whole meeting.

Essentially, there were just two delegations and what I'll call a "rubber-stamp recommendation" involving the use of one of our Forestry roads by a private landowner.  But the meeting, including the in-camera session, took the better part of four hours.  Which prompted me to write on my Facebook status last night that "I fear we could debate motherhood to death."

I was only being partly facetious.  One of the delegations was from the Cowichan Child Care Council, a sub-set of "Social Planning Cowichan", and the group spent considerable time asking for Council's endorsement of something called the "Community Plan for a Public System of Integrated Early Care and Learning."

You can read the plan at the link above, but the bottom line seems to be a desire to move the notion of "child care" out of the domain of family/social policy, and into the rubric of "public education".  

There are several things driving this idea.  First is the question of cost.  The first presupposition is that because the first six years of a child's life are extremely formative in terms of educational, emotional, and social development, those years should fall under the umbrella of "public education".  This, according to the plan, should be as close to "free" as possible to parents, just like the rest of the public education system.  In that respect, the plan envisions a structure that would reduce costs to parents from the range of $30/day to about $10/day.  And families with incomes at $40-thousand a year or less would get the service at no cost.

This plan also envisions starkly heightened requirements for the training of what we now call "day care workers" - they would be re-classified as "Early Childhood Educators" - complete with a requisite diploma program before they could look after young children.  There's actually a suggestion that we move toward a model that would require those workers take a four-year degree program.  From page 18 of the report: "A Bachelor of Early Childhood Education as the new educational standard recognizes the importance and value of the work done by early childhood educators and invests in their development."

I trust you're beginning to get the idea here.

This plan is being presented within a paradigm where what's been known as the "traditional family" is coming under increasing social and economic pressure.  We live in an age of increased single motherhood, a lack of long-term "marriage commitments", and the societal expectation of the "super-mom" who should be able to juggle family and career responsibilities without any guilt or ill effects.  Add to that the economic reality that more and more families are being forced (in part by the burdens imposed by ever-increasing levels of government taxation) to go to a two-income model, and it's easy to see that the notion of "stay-at-home" motherhood appears to be an increasingly endangered paradigm for the raising of our children.   Which is why, in a sense, I was only being partly facetious when I wrote on my FaceBook status that we were indeed "debating motherhood."

But the facts are what they are.  We saw some statistics from the regional Health Authority earlier this month that claim almost a third of children (29%) who go into kindergarten at age 5 or 6 are really "not ready" to move into the education system.  They haven't developed the social, emotional, or learning skills to make the move.  The inference is, of course, that these kids need more "Early Childhood Education" from the professionals so they can be ready for the transition; that they're not being served well enough at home.  (Interestingly, the British government has come to a somewhat similar conclusion, and rolled out a plan late last year for "parent training courses" to help parents in their task of raising young children.) 

But the proposal that we looked at last night raises a whole different set of concerns.  I asked two questions of the delegation, neither of which was actually answered to my satisfaction.  The first had to do with the 29-percent of kids who aren't ready for kindergarten.  Specifically, I asked whether this figure is because of poor parenting skills, or perhaps because we've "raised the bar" in terms of the expectations we have of children who are getting ready to enter the formal education system?  The presenters didn't have the answer to that question, and allowed that it would make for a good "research project".

The other question was, in my mind, even more serious:

"My biggest concern here has to do with the underlying presupposition of putting 'day-care' under the auspices of the 'education' system.  Right now, education is mandatory.  When children reach a certain age, the government expects them to be 'in school'.  Is there a danger here that, if the plan you present is adopted, the age of 'mandatory education' will be lowered to the point where there's a legal expectation that parents will be forced to put their children into an 'Early Childhood Education' program when they're as young as 3 or 4 years old?"

I was assured that the plan doesn't envision "mandatory" daycare, but that assurance seemed somewhat tepid to me, because the brief answer to my direct question was presented within the context of yet another long and detailed explanation of the importance of "learning" in the first six years of childhood.  To be fair, I'm sure the proponents of this plan don't envision state truancy officers going door to door and plucking two and three year old kids out of their mother's arms to force them into state-run "education centres", but if day care is going to become part of the "education" system, and "education" is considered a public good and thus mandatory, I trust that you can see where I have some concerns with the unintended consequences of this idea.

We were being asked to pass a motion to "endorse" the plan in toto.  The delegation even presented us with a draft motion for our consideration, that we: 

"...endorse the Community Plan for a Public System of Integrated
Early Care and Learning proposed by the Coalition of Child Care
Advocates of BC and the Early Childhood Educators of BC.
This Plan has the potential to make a real difference for BC children,
families and communities. We urge the provincial government to
commit to the Plan's vision and work with communities to immediately
begin its implementation."

Councillor Koury raised an important point on that proposal, saying he wouldn't be able to support the motion as drafted because, while the 23-page report was long on details of why and how the plan should be implemented, there was absolutely no discussion on the budget implications for the Provincial Treasury.  In the end, (I think mostly in recognition that the present day care system isn't working in terms of costs and availability,) Council voted to endorse a greatly truncated motion, to:

"endorse, in principle, the proposed plan for a public
system of integrated early care and learning in BC."

The other presentation last night came from Tom Anderson, the Planning and Development manager for the Regional District, who presented us with an update on the CVRD's proposed "Integrated Regional Sustainability Plan."  That plan involved putting together a framework for environmental and development issues that cross jurisdictional boundaries within the District - things such as air and water quality, setting some standards for residential development and density, and reaching some kind of agreement on things such as expected service levels.  The plan essentially replaces an earlier proposal for a "Regional Growth Strategy", which was defeated at the Regional District Board table a few years ago.   Mr. Anderson's presentation was accepted as information.

The final item on the public agenda involved an application for a short-term "Licence of Occupation" from a landowner in the Stoney Hill area, (near Maple Bay/Genoa Bay), to use our Forestry Road there to transport about 8 truckloads of logs to market.  The motion, including a number of conditions such as adequate insurance and a commitment to remediate any damage done to the road, was approved. 

That's it for this week. 

As always, there's space for your comments below, and questions and discussion are also welcomed by email.


  1. Thanks for this post Al.
    I am surprised that this can even be supported in principle. The principle that should be supported is that family is and remains the foundation for society in general. When we study history we see that when the family's position in society is successfully undermined a very rapid decline in the economic well being of that same society follows. The best thing any government can do for society from a fiscal perspective, is protect and promote families. And by family I mean the traditional Judea-Christian society.

    I wonder what council means when they say "a system of integrated early care"?

    1. Good points, John. The problem is that in a broad sense the horse you have identified (the family as the foundation of society in general) has long left the barn, and from a governance perspective, we're left dealing with the aftermath of that reality.
      To use your paradigm, the family's position in society has already been undermined by some of the factors I identified above.. (increase in single motherhood, a lack of understanding/commitment to the institution of marriage, the economic realities of the need for two-income households, etc).
      Within that context, we are left cleaning up the mess created by those realities. The fact is that in the broader society, there is a huge problem with respect to a lack of any kind of recognition of the values and skills involved in the "traditional family." We have kids raising kids. We have a generation coming into adulthood today for whom what you and I consider "normal parenting skills" were never modeled, so they're essentially thrashing around blindly in the dark.
      In an ideal world, the notion of government-run "day care" is not my preferred option. Absolutely not. But we don't live in that ideal.
      And within the limited purview of local government, how do we promote the values you identify; the notion of "protecting and promoting families"? One way, to be sure, would be to lessen the tax burden, but if you've read back in my blog, you'll see that this has been a losing proposition in the context of the present Council I'm working with.
      As to what the resolution means by the "integration" concept, that was taken in part from the proposed resolution that was presented to us for adoption.
      I took the resolution as nothing more than a high-level ("in principle") suggestion that the Province have a look at integrating day care and education in some form, in recognition of the notion that the present system isn't working. That a great number of kids aren't being adequately "parented" (for the sociological reasons identified above,) and that there are huge problems from an access and affordability perspective.
      But it's my strong suspicion that if/when the Provincial government does "look at it", they'll discover that this model is flawed from a social policy perspective, and so cost-prohibitive as to be completely unrealistic.