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Day care is getting a bad rap: Gentle Leahcim Newton proved it

May 6, 2001 1:41 am

YOU MAY HAVE seen an obituary in the paper last week for Leahcim Newton. It might not have been noteworthy for most readers aside from the fact that Leahcim was only 20 when she died.

Like many other parents in the area, I knew Leahcim because she had helped out our child-care provider after school and in the summertime.

She was a sweet and kind person, and she loved kids. You could see it in her smile. Our little girl always said how nice she was.

Leahcim also loved pets and just a year ago was looking forward to a career of working with animals when a routine visit to her doctor for back pain revealed a rare form of cancer.

It's a sad, sad story. But Leahcim will be remembered, and there are plenty of children out there who are better off for having known her.

I'm thinking about child care these days not only because of Leahcim but also because of the recent reports on studies about children who have grown up with child care.

People should always be wary of studies. Researchers, no matter how fair they say they're trying to be, may give an inadvertent spin to their numbers.

So when they say that a certain percentage of kids who have spent a lot of time in day care show aggression, how are they measuring the variables? How do they measure aggression? All kids grab a toy from another child once in a while, but what is the frequency or level of violence involved? Is there comparable information for kids who have been kept home until kindergarten?

And isn't a little aggression a good thing? A child shouldn't be a pushover for a bully. Heck, I wish our son would be a little more aggressive on the soccer field. We're not getting him involved in sports in hopes that he'll be a wallflower.

Now, a follow-up report on that study, which struck fear in so many parents of day-care children, suggests those numbers might not show anything out
of the ordinary after all.

I've discovered during six years of parenting that some parents of day-care kids think they are frowned upon by parents of home-raised kids, and vice versa.

I know kids raised under both circumstances and they're all terrific.

What the issue should come down to is that people with kids in day care should feel as comfortable about that setting as they feel about their home environment.

Abusive or neglectful parents might not care who watches their kids, and the result will be bad kids. No surprise there.

Parents who do care will strive to find the best possible setting, and their kids will end up happy, healthy and well-adjusted.

The fact that we have been happy with our caregivers is no accident. We're careful. We get references. We ask questions--or I should say, my wife asks questions, as a veteran news reporter would.

If you're paying attention, you can get a pretty good idea about the care your child will receive, whether you'll enjoy a healthy interaction with the caregiver, whether the caregiver exudes a conscientiousness that lends you peace of mind.

No child-care setting can be a mirror image of home, nor should it be. But there should be agreement on how unacceptable behavior will be handled. Parents should expect to be and want to be informed about their child's behavior, both good and bad.

Parents who lose confidence in their child care must be ready to act quickly while learning from the experience.

I don't mean this to be a lesson in choosing child care, but rather an explanation of why I roll my eyes at studies that purport to inform the public about whether child care is wounding a generation of children.

We were as worried and naive as any parents would be when handing their children over to strangers for the first time. We agonized over the process of finding the best possible care. Putting all objectivity aside, our children are turning out wonderfully.

The real story of child care is not found in thousands of case studies. It's found one family, one child at a time.

And if you find your caregiver has someone like Leahcim around to help out, you'll know you've found a place that loves kids.





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