Day care blues in Quebec

Quebec subsidizes day care for children under school age with parents paying only $7 a day. How are the kids doing? Not very well, says a new study. David Leonhardt writes in the New York Times:

Starting in 1997, the Quebec Family Policy subsidized day care for 4-year-olds at government-approved centers around the province. By 2000, the program had expanded to cover any child not old enough for kindergarten, all the way down to infants.

More mothers went to work, boosting the economy. But researchers found “much worse outcomes for kids.”

Young children in Quebec are more anxious and aggressive than they were a decade ago, even though children elsewhere in Canada did not show big changes. Quebec children also learn to use a toilet, climb stairs and count to three at later ages, on average, than they once did. The effects weren’t so great for parents, either. More of them reported being depressed, and they were less satisfied with their marriages — which also didn’t happen in other provinces.

Children in the first year of life, children in full-time care and children in low-quality programs appear to be at risk, Leonhardt writes. That adds up to a lot of children. Quebec’s centers offer mediocre-quality programs and discourage part-time enrollment.

High-quality child care is expensive — and rare. I see evidence that disadvantaged children benefit from preschools that focus on language development. However, mediocrity is a real risk for government programs: Quebec is spending $1.4 billion a year to get worse outcomes for children.

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