Who Invented Daycare?

Child care is a critical aspect of the Canadian economy, just as it is throughout the modern world. Without daycare centres available to working parents, both parents would not seek employment outside their homes. In fact, this type of organized care has been around for longer than you may think.

What the Scholars Say About the History of Daycare

According to British anthropologist Chris Knight, early human population growth was explosive. He claims that this rapid population of our planet could not occur without the acceptance of some form of quality childcare. Otherwise, the population numbers would have remained steady due to issues like infanticide and other population controls. Also, with the number of children growing into maturity, it is clear that this care proved exceptional.

Feminist scholar Elaine Hoffman Baruch points to Plato as one of the earliest innovators in the field of child care. In 394 B.C., he argued for a childcare system to enable women to more freely engage in society. Among royals for centuries, children fell under the care of their extended family members, governesses, tutors or nannies.

The First Day Care Centres

The first daycares originated in Europe in the late 1700s to early 1800s. In 1805, one of the first English childcare books, “The Rights of Infants,” was written by Elizabeth Dawbarn. In November 1844, Firmin Marbeau opened a Parisian crèche, the first of its kind. Twenty-five years later, the French government formed the Societe des Creches.

Private charities first brought daycare to the United States and Canada in the 1850s. One such example was Ansley Wilcox’s Charity Organization Society. In the U.S., the first daycare for working mothers’ use was The Fitch Creche in Buffalo, New York. At about the same time, the New York Day Nursery was established in the 1850s.

Evolution of Modern Daycare

Today’s style of daycare programs started in the late 1800s. With very little financial support from the government or public, these centres were privately established and required parents to enroll their children for a fee. After the Great Depression and through World War II, more of these programs became government-sponsored. Subsidies helped childcare centres thrive after the Great War. But today, most of these centres are created for-profit on a per-child fee basis.

In 1893, a New York philanthropist named Josephine Jewell Dodge established the first daycare nursery. She wanted to use her platform to develop a template of approved methods for successful child-rearing. At the same time, she wanted to draw attention to the importance of this type of childcare.

Josephine J. Dodge had many opponents to her belief system and childcare model. Those against her claimed that these centres provided inadequate care, while they encouraged mothers to work outside of the home in low-paying occupations. As a result of the growing dilemma of whether to stay home as a parent or work outside of the home, the American government introduced a “mother’s pension.” This program enabled mothers to earn money while staying at home to raise their families. But it did not help women in the lowest income brackets who needed to work outside of the home for their families’ survival.

Wartime and Post-War Daycare

During the Great Depression, one in four daycare centres closed due to declining enrollment. But the need for this organized childcare rose in World War II as women sought employment for the war cause. After the end of the war, this need declined, and many centres were permanently shut down.

In America in the 1950s, Congress granted a childcare tax deduction for low- to middle-income families. This enabled them to deduct their daycare costs from their income taxes. But this law did not help parents’ gain access to affordable quality childcare. Charities still operated most centres.

Low-income families in America continued to struggle to find affordable childcare from the 1960s through the 1990s. This kept many families in the cycle of poverty, unable to improve their financial circumstances because of the low availability of the care they needed to enable both parents to go to work.

In Canada through 1990, the federal government shared half of the eligible childcare costs with provinces and municipalities offering childcare to needy families. This program was the Canadian Assistance Program.

In 1990, the government capped how much support they would provide for the three wealthiest provinces. As a result, Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia received only five percent in annual increases for federal contributions. This meant welfare costs outpaced the increases in funding, giving the provinces of Ontario and B.C., in particular, less money for daycare.

Despite the transfer of this funding from the Canada Assistance Program to the Canada Health and Social Transfer, public funding has decreased while childcare costs have increased.

Modern Daycare

Daycare continues to evolve today. But in English-speaking countries, most childcare still takes place in the family home or home settings. The most common choices include parental care at home, in-home nannies or arrangements with family, neighbours or friends outside of the home. This compares to Nordic countries, where most childcare revolves around formal daycare centres.

Many options for parents in the realm of the daycare industry exist. These include parental care at home, childminders providing home-based care, specialized child care centres and large regulated institutions. Some employers offer their childcare centres for their employees’ benefit on the employment premises or nearby. In highly populated areas, there is a multitude of for-profit daycare options for families. These centres also exist where there are government subsidies to support the facilities.

Is daycare a good choice for my child?

According to independent studies, good daycare benefits children and does not cause them harm. Quality childcare provides alternative experiences beyond those taking place in the child’s home. This broadens the child’s exposure to learning opportunities and developmental growth. In fact, childcare centres offer a great benefit to kids learning how to socialize, such as those from age two and up. This level of child-to-child interaction cannot be mimicked within a family home. This is a contributing factor in why children in quality daycare settings enjoy better language and cognitive development during their first four and a half years of life.

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