Are we asking the right question when we ask 'Is child care bad for children?'

Document Type

Journal Article


Early Childhood Australia


Faculty of Computing, Health and Science


School of Psychology and Social Science




This article was originally published as: Sims, M. (2003). Are we asking the right question when we ask' Is child care bad for children?'. Australian Journal of Early Childhood, 28(4), 34-40. Original available here


Originally evolving out of a welfare model of services (Brennan, 1994; Sims & Hutchins, 1996), child care has traditionally been the underdog of early childhood programs. Child care workers remain on lower wages than early childhood teachers (Press & Hayes, 2001). Training requirements to work in child care are less, and the industry is characterised by high caregiver stress levels, high staff turnover and poor working conditions (Commonwealth Child Care Advisory Council, 2001; Press & Hayes, 2001; Sims, 2003, in press). It is no wonder child care is perceived as a "necessary evil" for those parents whose needs require them to be in the workforce. The Western world is strongly influenced by an 'Ideology of Motherhood' (Hutchins & Sims, 1999) which implies that the ultimate achievement of womanhood is to parent children. In this context, women who 'pass on' their child caring role to others are judged as poor examples of womanhood. The child care industry, therefore, is seen as having a '...financial interest in separating infants and young children from their mothers ...' (Cook, 2002). Alternatives to child care, such as extended parental leave, are debated without challenging the fundamental assumption that children are better off in their homes, being cared for by a parent. Formal child care is often perceived as the opposite, and less desirable end of the child care continuum, with parental care at the most desirable, end. Proving child care is bad for children is often assumed to prove the converse: that parental care is the best for children. The question thus becomes imbued with all the power and emotion surrounding the whole issue of parenthood/motherhood.