Whose opportunities ? (Colloque, oct. 2009, National Library of Portugal)

Arguments for Non-Parental Care for Children

lundi 26 octobre 2009, par Anca Gheaus

Thèmes : Inégalités | Egalité des chances | Famille

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Here I advance several pro tanto reasons of justice why some of the work of caring for children should be done by non-parents, ideally in public institutions and as much by men as by women. Although much of my argument will rest on the importance of fair opportunities, on the endemic nature of mistakes of care and on children’s vulnerability to failed care, I shall not consider the more radical possibilities of addressing these issues either by abolishing the family and raising children in well-run orphanages or by instituting a parenting licence scheme1. Instead, I start from the assumption that parenting as we know it is a value worth preserving and I claim that the best care regime will combine care for children at home, by family (and, when possible, by more than the nuclear family), with care outside the family in well run public institutions. This will mean that children spend a few hours every day in caregiving institutions, although I will not attempt to specify the best ratio between parental and non-parental care. Nor am I going to engage with the question whether this arrangement should be mandatory or merely available to all children, since this would involve discussing possible conflicts with parental prerogatives and a much more precise specification of which institutional care is good enough and thus advances children’s wellbeing than I can offer here. I will thus limit myself to showing why significant exposure to non-parental care would be just and beneficial for both children and parents. I hope to show why there is moral value in diversifying carers for children and to bring additional arguments for a social organisation of care for children that includes significant non-parental care. In the case of pre-school aged children, this will amount to a division of labour only in the sense that different individuals, who stand in different relationships to the children, will take turns to care for them in different locations. In the case of older children, I will argue for a proper division of labour, with some tasks (such as teaching of specialised subjects) properly assigned to non-parents. My fundamental normative assumption is that a just society will ensure that people’s essential needs are being met. Moreover, when the satisfaction of needs impacts on people (often comparative) opportunities to lead good lives, there is all the more reason to ensure the needs are properly addressed. I define care as the disposition and activity to meet needs within relationships. Children are dependent on adults’ care, and since proper care for children shapes their bodies, personalities and various abilities, the care they receive is crucial in determining their opportunities both as children and as future adults. Parents, in turn, have their own needs (some of which qua parents), which means they should also be given care ; but, as adults, they are less dependent than children are on particular individuals. One particularly salient need of parents, which is seriously frustrated when childcare cannot be shared, is for time. Parents need some time free from the responsibility of caring for children if they are to get proper rest and to have the opportunity to pursue any other projects of their own. And more than merely physical time, I argue, parents (and children !) need to have the responsibility for child care divided among several persons to better manage the ambivalent feelings that permeate ordinary parent-child relationships. In this paper I focus on why it is important that the work of care for children be shared between parents (or, in some cases, extended family) and persons who come into children’s life as strangers but who are prepared and willing to develop caring relationships with them. I will also advance a few reasons why care by non-parents would be better done in public institutions, rather than by nannies or in private institutions.

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par Anca Gheaus

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