The case for diversifying child carers

dimanche 15 janvier 2012, par Anca Gheaus

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The French version of this paper can be found in Raison publique, n°15, Autumn 2011.

1. Introduction

This paper [1] advocates a division of labor in caring for children with the aim to ensure that all children receive a certain amount of regular, reliable, and robust non-parental care [2]. In general, arguments for the division of labor rely on the value of specialization, which can often increase quality and/or productivity [3]. By contrast, the central arguments I put forward rely mainly on the importance of a diversification of care-givers which may or may not involve specialization. It is plausible that in the case of younger children non-parental care will amount to different individuals taking turns to care for them in different locations. Only in the case of older children non-parental care would amount to specialization, with some tasks (such as teaching, supervising homework, or developing hobbies) properly assigned to non-parents. Since I adopt a broad definition of care as meeting needs [4] the non-parental care I discuss will encompass a variety of types of care, from daycare to after-school.

I rely on the feminist literature on care and dependency which claims that there is a collective obligation to ensure that all children receive adequate care ; in practice, this translates into a state obligation towards the children who live under their jurisdictions. Parents are, by default, responsible with ensuring that their children receive adequate care ; but, I argue, some of the hands-on care ought to be done by people other than the children’s own parents. The arguments for diversifying child carers advanced here take into account reasons of justice as well as children’s and parents’ wellbeing.

In the next section I briefly discuss the universal importance of care and the conditions which make vulnerability morally objectionable, and argue that the diversification of child-carers is necessary in order to render the child-parent relationships morally permissible. These relationships involve structurally asymmetric power and vulnerability. Continuous and robust sources of non-parental care will also minimize bad care by preventing the abuses of this asymmetry. I identify three mechanisms of reducing bad care : by reducing the costs of exit for children, by deterring parents from child neglect and abuse, and by making bad parental care easier to discover.

In the third section I show that having a unique source of childcare is not only unacceptably risky, but sometimes very harmful. Care fails in many ways, independently of who does it. The diversification of child-carers will spread more equally the actual failures of care, as well as forms of good care. Thus, having multiple carers will be fair to children who are disadvantage with respect to the quality of family care they receive.

The first two reasons for diversifying childcare are reasons of justice, and indicate that there should be a universal and mandatory system of non-parental care. A third group of reasons are based on children’s and adults’ wellbeing : having a variety of cares is intrinsically good for children because it exposes them to a variety of caring styles and it enables them to create trusting relationships with initial strangers. Thus, in the fourth section I argue that even children who have sufficiently good parents are likely to benefit from exposure to a variety of parenting styles. For the involuntarily childless adults engaged in non-parental care the benefits consist in creating enduring caring relationships with children and, in the case of specialized childcare, in more opportunity to share with some children their own interests and hobbies. I conclude, in the fifth section, with a brief discussion and illustration of the welcome effects of the specialization in caring for older children.

That non-parental childcare should be mandatory will appear highly controversial to many readers. The debate around childcare is mostly about its impact on children’s and parents’ welfare (is it beneficial to children ? is it necessary for mothers being able to pursue careers ?) and positive answers are taken to imply that non-parental care should be available to parents, but not that it should be mandatory [5]. One of the most widely acknowledged rights of parents is to decide on how children are being raised, including whether and what kind of non-parental care they receive. This is a right widely accepted by philosophers [6] and inscribed in several international legal documents [7]. Having a system of mandatory non-parental care would go a long way towards limiting parents’ right to decide on how to raise their children. It is, however, less controversial that parental rights should be limited by children’s welfare. International documents such as the widely-endorsed U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child stipulate, children’s welfare is paramount [8], and that states are under an obligation to protect children’s welfare even when this involves restricting or qualifying parental rights.

Therefore, my position is strengthened by evidence that a diversification of child care-givers is likely to be beneficial for children. A recent and thorough assessment of the literature on non-parental care of children concludes that non-parental care of children after the first year is neutral or beneficial [9]. To be beneficial, the settings of non-parental care must meet minimal standards [10].

My position is also strengthened by the fact that non-parental care is likely to advance social justice in general. It is by now widely accepted amongst philosophers working on social justice [11] that raising children in families contributes to the perpetuation of social inequalities. Diversifying child carers can, if properly set-up, mitigate some of the inequality-producing effects of the family.

I shall not engage with the contentious question of who should pay for childcare (all members of society ? only those who have children ? the parents of each child for their offspring ?). This is different from the question of who should do the hands-on childcare (parents-only ? parents and non-parents ?). The answer to the first question depends on the existence of a possible duty to socially share (some of) the cost of childrearing, which falls outside the scope of this paper. I address only the second question, and argue it is a matter of justice to ensure all children have some non-parental care – independently of who ought to assume the financial responsibility for this arrangement.

2. Diversification of childcare : making vulnerability relationships acceptable and minimizing bad care

To survive and thrive, we all need others to be involved, at times, in the direct provision of essential goods such as food, water, bodily care and emotional care. Far from being an exceptional state, dependence is part of every human life (albeit to different extents) : children require care for many years before they become relatively independent adults. Most people go through times of illness and many through temporary or permanent disability which makes them dependent to carers. And the majority of us require care at the end of our lives [12].

Dependency as a universal feature of human life makes care similar to a primary good and places it at the center of morality. Eva Feder Kittay argued that caring for dependents is akin to a primary good because, just like other primary goods, care is necessary for the pursuit of any life plan : most people’s life plans rely on the assumption that they and their dear ones will be cared for when they will need it. Since care is essential to any human life, its’ adequate provision is a matter of social justice rather than an issue left to the private decision of each individual. In particular, it is a matter of social responsibility to ensure that all children receive adequate care. What sets children apart is that they are especially dependent and vulnerable.

Robert Goodin takes vulnerability as the general source of the obligation to help [13]. Goodin argued that vulnerability singles out individuals as recipients of special obligations : people to whom individuals are vulnerable, either individually or collectively, have the moral obligation to attend to the wellbeing of the vulnerable and, if necessary, to socially organize themselves in order to so effectively. Because children are collectively vulnerable to all adults, in the sense that any adult could meet a child’s dependency needs, making sure that all children receive adequate childcare is a matter of social obligation. Together, the adults of a given society have the obligation to ensure that all children are properly cared for.

But how exactly should the provision of childcare be organized ? Where and by whom should the hands-on care, necessary to achieve the goals of caring for children, be done ? Relying on Goodin’s account of vulnerability, I argue the answer should not be “at home only, by parents only” but “by different carers in different locations”.

What distinguishes children from other individuals in need of care is that they are structurally dependent on their caregivers ; their dependency, and hence vulnerability, to whoever cares for them is unavoidable as long at they remain children. In his analysis of vulnerability as a ground for moral obligation, Goodin argues that vulnerability and dependency are not intrinsically undesirable. Indeed, when applied to children, his position seems particularly convincing : for many people involved in childrearing, children’s vulnerability to their care-givers is one of the features that makes intimate and sustained relationships with children valuable [14]. Rather, it is the risk of abusing power over those who are vulnerable, than vulnerability itself, which is problematic. As Goodin puts it, “The attendant risks of the power being abused underlies our moral objections to vulnerability and dependency relationships.” [15].

According to Goodin, a combination of features increase the risk of abuse within dependency relationships : first, the relationship is asymmetrical in terms of parties’ power ; second, the dependent party has a vital need of the resources provided by the other party ; third, the relationship is the only source of such resources for the dependent party ; and, finally, the superordinate party exercises discretionary control over those resources [16]. When dependency relationships display all these features they embody a kind of monopoly which is deemed morally unacceptable.

The first two features necessarily apply to relationships between children and parents, which are structurally asymmetrical and in which parents provide children with vitally needed care. If the social provision of childcare allows parents to be the only source of regular and reliable care for their children, then the child-parent relationship acquires the third and fourth features, and thus becomes morally unacceptable.

Goodin indicates two possible strategies for solving the moral problems raised by interpersonal dependencies and vulnerabilities. One is to ensure that parties can, if necessary, defend themselves against each other. This is possible only when the first two features do not apply – that is, when no basic needs are involved and the relationship is symmetrical, such that each side can ‘give as good as it gets in any fight’, or else to withdraw. This is clearly not available in the case of children. The other strategy “is to to try to forestall the threat of exploitation rather than merely trying to defend against it” by “depriving superordinates of discretion in the disposition of needed resources. That is by far the best way to deprive dependencies of their moral sting” [17] The feature which should be dismantled in order to render children’s relationships of those who give them care morally acceptable is monopoly since “as long as the subordinate party can withdraw without severe cost, the superordinate cannot exploit him” [18]. But, as long as they depend exclusively on the care of their parents (or any other unique providers), children cannot withdraw without paying exceedingly high costs.

In the case of children, the strategy of dismantling, or at least weakening, the monopoly of care, would amount to having regular and reliable hands-on care done by other carers in addition to parents. Children should be able to depend on more people than their parents for the provision of material, emotional and intellectual resources they need. For this solution to work, the non-parental care would have to be very robust : reliable, regular, and coming from people or institutions that are independent from parents and who can therefore ensure that, should parental care fail, the child can safely turn, or be turned, to the non-parental carer for help. In practice, it would mean that childcare institutions be ready to give children a default, even if temporary, alternative, to family care. Such institutions would be places where children would spend time regularly, and where they could turn to, should parental care fail seriously. This solution is likely to remain imperfect : to make he assymetrical relationships between child carers and children entirely unobjectionable it should be possible for children to withdraw from any them entirely. But it is difficult to see which organisation of childcare could make this fully possible, given children’s reduced capacity to make informed choices, especially when they are very young. Although imperfect, the solution of diversifying childcarers is the only desirable and available way out of the morally objectionable kind of relationships that would obtain between children and unique caregivers.

I do not argue here for the more radical possibilities of addressing the risk of monopolies of care by abolishing the family and raising children in well-run orphanages, by a variety of independent care-givers [19]. Children’s need for a continuous and highly personalised bond of care [20], and the importance adults place on parenting rule out a universal orphanage (at least in its usual representation). Having non-parental care as a regular supplement to parental care is the least we can do to loosen the parental monopoly on care for each child without abolishing parenthood as such.

The diversification of care-givers can meet the social obligation we owe to all children to minimize the amount of bad care [21] through different mechanisms. The first, outlined above, is by lowering as much as possible the costs that children have to pay in order to exit relationships which involve bad care. Second, children’s exposure to several continuous and reliable care-givers is likely to deter parents from engaging in at least the worse forms of bad care, such as child neglect and abuse. Third, when undeterred, child abuse and neglect can be very difficult to discover unless children have regular contact with adults other than their parents and immediate family. Policies aimed at early prevention and discovery of bad care are morally problematic because of worries about disrupting the privacy of intimate relationships and not very feasible. For example, universal regular home-visits by social workers would require sweeping information-gathering mechanisms among all families [22]. This is a strong reason to try to mitigate inadequate care differently, when possible. Regular attendance of care institutions ensure that children are exposed to other carers than their parents ; these, if professionally trained, are likely to notice when parental care goes very wrong without intruding into the intimacy of the family. When children suffer either neglect or abuse in their homes, a diversification of child-carers can speed up the discovery of bad home care, thus minimizing its risks.

So far I argued that monopolist dependency relationships of care are wrong even if no actual abuse takes place. Unfortunately, parental power is in fact often abused. And, even when there are no intentional abuses of power, challenging the exclusive nature of some forms of parenting can benefit children. In the following two sections the argument turns from a hypothetical one to considering actual features of real-life childcare.

3. Diversification of child-carers as a matter of fairness : the prioritarian argument

The exposure of children to a diversity of child-carers is likely to spread more equally the actual forms of bad and good care, thus giving a prioritarian argument for robust, regular non-parental care.

Abuse and neglect, the most frequent forms of extreme failings of care, range over a very wide spectrum, from murder, rape, maiming, failing to feed children and protect their physical integrity to name-calling, the kind of bullying one’s children that one can notice everyday on the streets and inability to speak with children for days. The abuses of parental power is abused are very real, and extreme forms of failed care are not exceptional. According to Harry Adams, in 2002 “on a national level, more than 3 million victims of alleged abuse were reported to Child Protective Services in the whole United States.” [23] Presumably, many more cases go unreported and undetected. A recent series of articles in New York Times, reports 1.6 million runaway children each year in the United States, many of whom never return to their families but end up in the underworld of drugs and prostitution [24]. There is, most likely, a variety of causes, some unrelated to bad care, that lead children – usually teenagers – to run away from home. Arguably, at least some of these children received inadequate care at home. When extreme, failings of care take the form of negligence and abuse and constitute grounds for removing children from their parents’ custody and, when possible, placing them in other people’s continuous care.

But many other failings of care are not extreme – rather, they are unavoidable failings to which all care-givers are susceptible. In spite of their everyday nature, the less than extreme failures may affect children’s development deeply. There is little research on failings of care done by feminist care ethicists. Some indication of what failed care is can however be inferred from theories of good (enough) care. Various care theorists identified the aims and the qualities of caring. The most important goals of caring for children, according to Sara Ruddick are preserving the life of the child, promoting her physical, intellectual and emotional growth, and helping her achieve social acceptability [25]. This suggest that when parents do not manage to keep their children safe, to help their personal development and ensure proper socialization, they are not giving adequate care. More generally, Joan Tronto identifies characteristics of care-givers that are essential in order to make for adequate, rather than corrupt, care : attention, responsibility, and non-parochial attitudes. [26]

Providing adequate care is not an easy task. Parents – and any other caregivers – need many types of resources in order to meet all three goals of care. They need favorable external circumstances such as material resources, social status, adequate institutional arrangements as well as adequate cultural norms and expectations [27]. Equally important, they need the internal – psychological and moral – resources in order to provide adequate care. Even under ideal conditions there can be conflicts between the different aims of care [28]. Because in all societies many parents struggle with precarious external conditions, and because shortcomings of personality and character inevitably are reflected in the quality of care, parenting is often likely to fall short of the standards of adequate care.

While striving to meet the aims of care, carers are confronted with the risk of various moral shortcomings. Tronto argues that carers can be paternalistic, impeding children’s development and autonomy, they can display parochialism, paying disproportionate attention to those near and dear and not enough to particularly needy strangers, and can neglect their own needs to the extent that they become resentful and eventually unable to care [29].

Many of the regular failures of care need not be a sign of particularly bad parenting as much as a predicament of anybody who takes upon themselves the continuous care of a child. Parenting often involves intense and ambivalent emotions [30]. In her book on the virtues, vices and tribulations of mothering, Ruddick writes about mothering including ambivalence, hate, violence (or temptation to be violent) but also about the difficulty of bringing this topic into public discussion : “Once, when I insisted that mothers dominate, humiliate, hate and hit, a listener complained that I made mothering sound like ‘war, not love’” [31]. And, she continues :

mothers succumb to the temptations inherent in their work - possessiveness, parochialism, fearfulness, cheery denial, high-mindedness, self-righteousness, self-sacrifice, and a rage for order that frightens even mothers themselves, to name only a few temptations. Mothers infuriate their children and disappoint themselves. [32]

In a similar vein, Paula Caplan, a clinical and research psychologist working on motherhood writes that “nearly everyone who has taken care of children has sometimes felt so frustrated, exhausted, and helpless that they have used some physical punishment or abuse our children outright (then felt horribly guilty for doing so).” [33]

Three features of childcare which, taken together, should warn against the dangers of having a unique source of childcare. First, care fails short of social, and caregivers’ own, expectations, in various ways, making the care that children receive from their parents very unequal. Second, the quality of care that children receive has an impact on their immediate wellbeing, on their future opportunities and on their character [34]. Third, particular forms of good, as well as bad, care tend to reproduce themselves throughout generations [35]. If children are exposed to one source of care [36], for example family care only, they are likely to do unequally well in those respects in which the quality of care is important and to contribute to – possibly enduring – legacies of unequal care.

I shall not argue further for the last two features. With respect to the first feature, the important question is whether there are direct ways of equalizing the quality of care children receive at home. Two approaches to make the quality of family childcare more equal have been suggested : improving parenting through various forms of parental training [37], and attempting to prevent some people from parenting. I am sympathetic to the first approach, but I believe its benefits are limited. Many forms of bad care stem from involuntary, and often unconscious patterns of relating to others, as well as from other personal shortcomings of the caregiver rather than from lack of information. While parental training may go a long way to improve the quality of parental care, it is hard to believe that it can even get people close to being equally good parents. Thus, parental training should not be seen as a substitute for having a diversity of child caregivers.

In response to (extreme forms of) bad care, some philosophers advocate the radical policy of enforcing parental licensing, in order to detect potential abusive or neglectful parents,. But licensing proposals (at least the more realistic) aim to tackle catastrophical parents only ; they do not promise any remedy for the less extreme, but nevertheless significant, forms of bad care. Moreover, depending on their particular shape, parental licensing policies face numerous problems which render them either undesirable, or unfeasible or both [38].

As a supplement to efforts to improve parenting skills, and most likley as an alternative to parental licensing, I suggest the diversification of child-carers ; not only will this minimize the bad care (through the mechanisms indicated in their previous section), but it will also serve as an equalizer of good and bad care between children coming from different families.

I suggest both that we accept the failings of parenting as expectable and natural and that we acknowledge a social obligation to provide childcare such that we mitigate the inequalities entailed by different quality in their family care. An obvious way to do this is by ensuring that children have several carers., who, if inevitably imperfect, can at least be expected to have different levels of caring competence and different shortcomings.

Regular attendance of good institutional care can counter the effects of the inevitable failings of parental care. To start with, professionally trained individuals will be less likely to make serious mistakes of care, and will be more likely to notice and correct the mistakes made by parents than non-professional caregivers. Thus, children whose parental care is less good will benefit more from the corrective effect of attending childcare institutions.

There is of course no reason to believe that professional child carers never make mistakes. But diversifying carers for children – without depriving them of parents – can hopefully mitigate some of consequences of bad care, because different carers are likely to make different mistakes. For example, a child who is constantly made to feel stupid at home might discover, in the context of institutional care, that she can be seen as smart. In the same context, however, she might be made to feel too slow, by, say, a caregiver who is unable to cope with the pace of this particular child. Experiencing mistakes in care that are different from the ones experienced at home may enable children to get a much welcome critical distance (either immediately or, at least, when they develop enough skills to reflect on their own upbringing). Exposure to a diversity of mistakes gives children the chance to better understand, at least on the long run, that many of the mistakes of care are inevitable ; hopefully this understanding can help children to summon the necessary resources to minimize the damage of failed care. If it is true that the various excesses that make for inadequate care run in families and get spontaneously reproduced, then children who do not experience a diversity of caregivers are likely to find it difficult to even notice them and, instead, to perceive those harmful patterns of interaction as normal.

This is a prioritarian argument. Suppose that some children have excellent parents, so unlikely to make any significant mistake of care that the children will be better off receiving care exclusively from their parents. By contrast, other children will benefit from getting some professional care in institutions – and the ones who are likely to benefit most are those who are most deprived of adequate family care. Also, suppose that reasons of privacy and the stigma attached to being deemed an inadequate parent prevent us from learning who are the excellent, and who are the inadequate, parents. In this case there is a prioritarian reason to create vastly available public institutional care to accommodate all children for a few hours a day, because this would target, and improve the lives of, the worst-off children with respect to care.

4. Diversification and specialization of childcare : benefiting children and parents

An immediate objection to this prioritarian argument, to be perhaps expected from a defender of strong parental rights, is why should children whose parental care is excellent have to be exposed to non-parental care for the sake of the well being of those children whose parental care fails ? The worries of those who do are not convinced by prioritarian arguments should be appeased if a diversification of child caregivers benefits even children who enjoy the best of parental care.

In this section I argue that, indeed, even children who are ideally cared for at home will gain some unique benefits from exposure to non-parental care. First, adequate non-parental care gives children a chance to form intimate and trustful bonds with people who are initially strangers to them. Learning how to relate to strangers in trustful ways is the first step in towards acquiring a sense that one is part of a potentially good and trustworthy world – rather than part of a world sharply divided between benevolent family members and indifferent, or even frightening, strangers. Even children with very good parents benefit from a diversity of caregivers because, throughout their lives, the ability to build and maintain caring relationships with people who are initially strangers to them is essential. Most of the relationships over the course of one’s lives are with initial strangers [39].

Second, even children who have the best of parents will benefit from being cared for by several people with different caring styles and abilities. According to feminist psychologist and clinical practitioner Susie Orbach, the characteristics of carers that help children grow up well are “continuity of care, a capacity to tolerate a wide range of emotions, not to be frightened of intimacy, the capacity for attachment” [40] Even people very good at caring are likely to display these abilities in different ways. Orbach explains that the very fact that the two parents are different people, with different relational abilities, is intrinsically valuable : “one parent may deal with the child distress in one way and one in another ... the child will see different things in each parent.” Even more importantly, being one of several caregivers of a child may enable each caregiver to display the emotional abilities outlined by Orbach to a higher degree. When there is more than one parent “the strain is taken off so that the parent isn’t quite so unable to tolerate the child’s difficulties and isn’t so frustrated...” [41] The argument can be extended from one-versus-two parents to unique-versus-multiple independent sources of childcare. In fact, Orbach herself argues that small children need a adequate nursery just as much as they need sufficiently good parents, because there they can experience care from people who can tolerate emotions (for example, expressions of rage, or fear, or sadness) that their own parents might not be able to tolerate - i.e. “providing recognition for areas that might be underdeveloped emotionally in children” and “acknowledging problematic feelings, mixed emotions, as well as the positive feelings children have. It means making it safe for them to have a different emotional repertoire than they are able to have in their primary relationship.” [42]

Therefore, even if most parental care was free of both the extreme and the more everyday forms of bad care, the mere existence of different parenting styles and abilities would make it valuable to expose children to several carers. For example, one caring style might allow for better development of emotional expression in words, another caring style might encourage logical thinking and so on.

Finally, a universal system of robust and continuous non-parental care to supplement family care for children can benefit those adults who are involuntarily childless, by giving them opportunities to develop substantial and enduring intimate relationships with children. This, again, is only possible if non-parental care is conducted in properly designed institutions with little staff turn-over.

5. The benefits of specialization in non-parental care

The argument of this paper is particularly relevant in the context of contemporary Western societies, which are increasingly urban and characterized by high geographical mobility, and where, unlike in traditional societies, the atomic family is the dominant model. In such societies children are much more likely to grow up with little exposure to continuous care from adults other than their immediate family. By contrast, in more traditional settings it is common to raise children in small communities, where they are looked after not only by parents but also by more distant relatives and/or neighbors.

In societies where many children grow up in atomic families it is especially important to create universal institutions to provide all children with high standard non-parental care, suited to the needs of their particular age and other individual characteristics. Having regular non-parental care in well-run institutions will, in the case of very small children, amount to a division of labor 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.

With respect to older children, there is a reason for a division of labor which includes specialization, with some tasks (such as the teaching of certain subjects) properly assigned to non-parents. One of the main developmental tasks of children, as they grow up, is to learn how to be gradually independent of their parents. Psychologist Rozsika Parker shows how the natural process of separation between parents and children as the latter become increasingly autonomous gives rise to huge anxieties and guilt [43]. According to Parker, schools can magnify this anxiety when they expect (as many currently do) parents to get closely involved in helping their children to achieve educational goals, for example by supervising homework or exam preparation. For children, who struggle with the need to separate from their parents, it is important not to have to accept their parents’ authority in all spheres of their lives, but, instead, to receive guidance from other authority figures. For instance, when it comes to school learning, it is easier for them to accept the authority of teachers, with whom they do not have to negotiate personal boundaries [44]. To illustrate, a fourteen years old girl explains that her parents’ excessive involvement in her school education leads to confusion and conflict. In her words : “when the teachers at school criticize and correct my work I can take it, but when my parents interfere, I just feel attacked.” [45]. Parker’s research provides a reason to question the current expectations of some schools that parents help out with homework and exam preparation, and to believe it might be better for schools to maintain a division of labor between parents’ and teachers’ contribution to meeting children’s educational needs.

Specialization in childcare may also carry benefits for the adults who provide non-parental care. Many adults love to share their own interests and hobbies with children, but are not always able to do this with their own children. Substantial non-parental care can offer an outlet for such adults to introduce some children to their own interests and offer mentoring, without putting undue pressure on their own children if the latter have different preferences than their parents. If one’s own child dislikes her parent’s choice of sports, music or museum, there will be other children, in need of non-parental care, who are likely to share share this particular adult’s tastes. This is of course in the interest of young generation as well, who is given a wider choice of role-models and who, overall, has to deal with a lesser amount of specific parental expectations regarding companionship and sharing hobbies.

The universal system of non-parental care advocated by this paper is probably more extensive than any of the currently existing ones. As already indicated, adequate institutional care would require sufficient, well-trained. committed and properly payed staff and adequate material resources. The institutions that can and should provide such care would range from day-care to kindergartens to schools and after-schools. The more comprehensive and reliable the care they offer, the better they will tackle monopolies of family care. The better they manage to attract and keep good carers, the higher the chances to address the failures of parental care and give children more equal access to good care. Finally, talented and well-trained staff with low turn-over will be necessary if children are to benefit from different styles of caring and to learn how to build caring relationships with initial strangers.

6. Conclusions

Usually, the division if labour is praised for the efficiency gains it makes possible and sometimes it is deplored for its possible unjust side effects. Not all work is equally valued by society, and belonging to a particular class, gender, or race often come with expectations that some people specialize in particular kinds of work ; this can, over time, lead to various forms of exclusion, exploitation and oppression, when some people are systematically encouraged or pressed into performing particular, undervalued, types of work./p>

By contrast, in this article I argued that a division of labour based on the diversification of labourers, rather than on their specialization, may entail gains in justice. The diversification of child carers is necessary for protecting some of the most vulnerable members of society – in this case, children – against the risks of monopolistic relationships of care in which unique care-givers have disproportionate power over the children for whom they care. Moreover, the diversification of child carers, if properly institutionalised, can spread more fairly the harms of bad care and the benefits of good care amongst all children.

Finally, I argued that, apart form satisfying a requirement of justice, a plurality of child carers brings specific benefits. All children, including those who are better of in terms of (parental) care, benefit from learning how to build sustained caring relationships early on, and from having a plurality of role models, which makes separation from their parents easier. In turn, adults who care for children other than their own have an increased chance to experience good caring relationships with individuals from the younger generations.

The value of a diversification of child carers warrants the institutionalization of a adequately run system of universal non-parental childcare to supplement the care children receive at home.

par Anca Gheaus

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[1] This paper draws on a previous article where I argue at length why non-parental care for children is required by justice and beneficial for children and parents. See Anca Gheaus ‘Arguments for Nonparental Care for Children’, forthcoming in Social Theory and Practice 37(3), 2011. Here I expand and detail some of the arguments in order to explore the various benefits of a division of labor in childcare, which, at times, allows for specialization. I am indebted to several people for interesting discussions or specific feed-back : Barbara Bergmann, Daniel Engster, Robert Goodin, Axel Gosseries, Adina Preda, Ingrid Robeyns, Adam Swift, Daniel Weinstock and two anonymous reviewers of Raison Publique. This article was funded by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO).

[2] I use the expression ‘non-parental care’ to refer to to care given by people who are not the parents of the respective children. Thus, ‘non-parents’ may of course have their own children.

[3] See, for instance, A. Smith. An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, Oxford : Oxford University Press, 1993, Book I, chapters 1 and 2.

[4] Following J. Tronto. Moral Boundaries : A Political Argument for an Ethic of Care, New York : Routledge, 1993.

[5] This is particularly true for care for younger children, and less so in the case of homeschooling, to which many are critical. But, to my knowledge, there are no defenders of the position that daycare, kindergarten and even forms of after-school childcare should be mandatory.

[6] Ferdinand Shoeman, for instance, argues that “the significance of intimate relationships is such as to morally insulate persons in such relationships from state intrusions”. See ‘Rights of Children, Rights of Parents and the Moral Basis of the Family’ in Ethics 91 (1980) : 6-19, p. 6.

[7] Article 26, para 3 from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948 by the General Assembly of the United Nations reads “(3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.” For more recent documents, see Children (Scotland) Act 1995. First Paragraph from Part I ‘Parents, Children and Guardians’ section 2 on parental rights : “a parent, in order to enable him to fulfill his parental responsibilities in relation to his child, has the right ... to control, direct or guide, in a manner appropriate to the stage of development of the child, the child’s upbringing”.

[8] Article 3(1) stipulates : “In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.”

[9] J. Waldfogel, What Children Need, Harvard : Harvard University Press, 2006.

[10] According to Daniel Engster it “generally appears that non-parental childcare arrangements are not harmful for most children as long as they meet various quality measures including low adult-child ratios, adequate levels of caregiver training, staff stability and decent physical facilities.” See D. Engster, The Heart of Justice, Oxford : Oxford University Press, 2007, 214.

[11] For example, see J. Fishkin, Justice, equal opportunity, and the family, New Haven and London : Yale University Press, 1983 and V. Munoz-Darde ‘Is the Family to be Abolished Then ?’ in Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, XCIX, 1999, p. 37-56.

[12] Some of the most important work arguing for this position in the last decade is E. F. Kittay, Love’s Labour. Essays on Women, Equality and Dependency, New York : Routledge, 1999 ; M. Nussbaum, Frontiers of Justice, Harvard : Harvard University Press, 2006 and D. Englster, The Heart of Justice. Care Ethics and Political Theory, Oxford : Oxford University Press, 2007.

[13] R. Goodin. Protecting the Vulnerable, Chicago : Chicago University Press, 1985. Goodin’s work on vulnerability as a source of normativity has been very influential amongst feminist philosophers who consider human dependency essential for normative thinking. Eva Kittay, for instance, relies on it for developing a feminist account of dependency duties.

[14] For one argument about the singular value of parenthood which assumes children’s special vulnerability see H. Brighouse and A. Swift, ‘Parents’ Rights and the Value of the Family’ in Ethics 117 (1), 2006, p.80-108 and H. Brighouse and A. Swift ‘Legitimate Parental Partiality’ in Philosophy and Public Affairs 37 (1), 2009, p 43-80.

[15] Goodin, op. Cit., p. 193.

[16] Ibid., p. 195.

[17] Ibid., p. 202.

[18] Ibid., p. 197.

[19] In favour of which there is a reason of justice as fairness, as argued by Munoz-Darde, 1999.

[20] See A. Alstott, No Exit : What Parents Owe Their Children and What Society Owes Parents, Oxford : Oxford University Press, 2004, especially p. 15-20.

[21] As Goodin himself makes explicit : “It is, ceteris paribus, immoral to tolerate a serious risk of immoral outcomes (e.g. exploitation) even if that risk never actually becomes a reality.” (Goodin, op. Cit., p. 194).

[22] Adams also makes this point in his book.

[23] H. Adams, Justice for Children, Albany : State University of New York Press, 2008, p. 118.

[24] See, for instance ‘For Runaways, Sex Buys Survival’ by Ian Urbina, 27th of October 2009.

[25] See S. Ruddick, Maternal Thinking, Boston : Beacon Press, 1989 and N. Noddings, Starting at Home, Berkeley and Los Angeles : University of California Press, 2002.

[26] Tronto, op. cit., p. 1993.

[27] Some cultural norms can put pressure on carers to prevent children’s development, when socially unacceptable, such as norms which command childrearing according to strict gender norms.

[28] One example is the conflict between encouraging the child’s development (for example encouraging her to explore the world and her own limits by climbing trees) and the aim of physical preservation of the child. There is no reason to believe that one can always strike a perfect balance between too much and too little protection. For illustrations of all the points in this paragraph, see A. Gheaus ‘How do Theories of Care Challenge Ideal Theories of Distributive Justice ?’, in L. Tessman (ed.) Feminist Ethics and Social and Political Philosophy : Theorizing the Non-Ideal, Springer Academic Publishing, 2009, p. 105-119.

[29] Tronto, op. cit., p. 1993.

[30] For recent work on parenting and ambivalence see R. Parker, Torn in Two. The Experience of Maternal Ambivalence, London : Virago, 2005 and W. Hollway and B. Featherstone (eds) Mothering and Ambivalence, London and New York : Routledge. 1997.

[31] Ruddick, op. cit., 1989, p. 30.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Paula J. Caplan "Mother-Blaming", in "Bad" Mothers. The Politics of Blame in Twentieth-Century America, Molly Ladd-Taylor and Lauri Umansky (eds.) New York and London : New York University Press, 1998, p. 136.

[34] For an account of how moral subjects are being created in the context of caring, see also V. Held, Feminist Morality : Transforming Culture, Society and Politics, Chicago : University of Chicago Press, 1993 and W. Hollway, The Subject of care, London and New York : Routledge, 2006.

[35] For an illustration of how bad care can reproduce itself from one generation to the next, and how difficult it to become conscious and resist this process, see A. Dillon, ‘The Ethical Education of Self-Talk’ in M. S. Katz, N. Noddings and K. A. Strike (eds.) Justice and Caring. The Search for Common Ground in Education, New York and London : Teachers College Press, 1999.

[36] For reasons of space, I cannot discuss here the single-parent family versus two parents family. My argument implies that, other things equal, having two parents it is better than having one. But this is not as such an argument against single parenthood. When parenting couples function harmoniously, they should, in many respects be considered as a unique source of care ; by contrast, fighting couples are likely to generate specific forms of bad care. What I hope to show in the present paper is the normative importance of having several independent sources of care for children.

[37] These could come in the form of parenting classes, undertaken either voluntary or compulsory. For an argument for the latter, see L. Bortolotti and D. Cutas ‘Reproductive and Parental Autonomy : and Argument for Compulsory Parental Education’, in Ethics, Bioscience and Life, 4, 2009, p. 5-14.

[38] The parent licensing scheme has been first advocated by H. LaFollette, ‘Licensing Parents’, in Philosophy and Public Affairs, 9, 1980, p. 182-97 and widely – and sympathetically – explored by Adams (2008). See LaFollette’s restatement of his position in H. LaFollette, ‘Parental Licensing Revisited’, in Journal of Applied Philosophy, 2010, no. doi : 10.1111/j.1468-5930.2010.00497.x. For recent criticism see D. Engster ‘The place of parenting within a liberal theory of justice : the private parenting model, parental licenses, or public parental support ?’ in Social Theory and Practice 36, 2010, p. 233-62.

[39] According to a study on the effects of daycare on children aged 3.5 to 29 months, the significant difference between children raised at home and those who attended daycare was the latter’s ability to relate less fearfully with peers. See J. Kagan, R. B. Kearsley and P. R. Zelazo ‘The effects of Infant Day Care on Psychological Development’ in Evaluation Review, 1(1) (1977). Also see Waldfogel (2006).

[40] ‘Susie Orbach talking to Wendy Hollway about mothers, parenting, gender development and therapy’ in W. Hollway and B. Featherstone (eds.) Mothering and Ambivalence, London and New York : Routledge (1997), p. 102.

[41] Ibid., p. 92.

[42] Ibid..

[43] See R. Parker (2005), Torn in Two. The Experience of Maternal Ambivalence, London : Virago.

[44] Ibid., p. 135-141 for a helpful discussion.

[45] Ibid., p. 138.


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