An Ottawa think tank survey says that parents believe that children who stay at home with a parent fare better than those in daycare.
Parents overwhelmingly believe it is better for young children to be at home with a parent rather than in day care or all-day kindergarten, according to a new poll commissioned by an Ottawa think tank.
The Institute of Marriage and Family Canada found that 76 per cent of Canadians (77 per cent of men and 75 per cent of women) believe it is best for children under six to be kept at home, cared for by a parent.
Among parents who currently have children younger than six, the number in favour of stay-at-home parenting dips slightly to 69 per cent.
If a parent is unable to care for their child, parents believe the next best option is a relative, followed by a neighbourhood home day care, the study found. The least preferred option is larger for-profit or not-for-profit day-care centres.
A clear majority, 61 per cent, also believe government funding of children should go directly to parents in cash rebates or tax credits, as opposed to building and staffing day care.
"A lot of the activists on this don't actually ask parents or go straight to parents, so we did," said IMFC executive director Andrea Mrozek.
Current policies that favour day care and full-day kindergarten are squeezing out other options, Mrozek said.
"What public policy is doing is preferentially funding one form of care at the expense of all others," she said.
"It's not fair to say that parents are vying for a Maserati as opposed to an older car. There's a basic option on the table that could be put on a level playing field with other options.
"The only one we seem to prioritize today is the institutional day care model and the creation of spaces."
But despite what polls say, parents are bringing their kids to the optional full-day kindergarten programs, said Kevin Kobus, Ontario Catholic School Trustees Association executive director.
"The numbers would indicate that it's an extremely popular program," Kobus said. "There's more that opt in than keep their children at home."
By the time full-day kindergarten is fully implemented in 2014, the Ontario Ministry of Education expects to see 265,000 children attending. More than 60 per cent of Ontario's full-day kindergartens today also offer before- and after-school programs at the request of parents, according to the Ministry of Education.
Child care centres aren't trying to substitute for parenting, they're trying to support parents and families, said Canadian Child Care Federation president and CEO Don Giesbrecht.
"There's nobody, even folks within our organization that provide child care, who is not going to say that the parent should be the primary caregiver of their child. That's not even part of the argument," he said.
IMFC wants the government to fund families either through tax credits or direct payments so they can choose their own child care options. The problem with that approach, said Giesbrecht, is that if governments don't invest in a system, individual families will never build a system.
If the government handed every parent of a child under six $400 per month, the cost would come to $10 billion per year, but $400 a month can't buy quality day care, he said.
For Ontario Catholic schools, full-day kindergarten has become an important tool to help build the Catholic system. Because the funding has been relatively equal between the public and Catholic systems, Catholic schools have had a fair opportunity to attract young parents, Kobus said.
"Once a kid is in a school system, whether it's public or Catholic, they tend to stay there," he said.
Also, putting young children in a Catholic environment where prayer, church-going, Christmas and Easter are part of the child's everyday experience furthers the real goal of supporting Catholic families, Kobus said.
"It's prior to the ages at which they would receive the sacraments, but to have that early exposure to Catholic teaching and a Catholic environment by Catholic teachers is certainly a positive," he said.
"My sense is that once they're in that JK and SK program they stay in that Catholic school for the duration of their elementary schooling."
Quality early childhood education also has an important social justice goal, said Kobus. The distinct advantages that rich and middle class families have in raising their children tends to erect permanent class barriers for poor children who historically have fared worse in the education system.
"There are options that wealthier parents would have for four- and five-year-olds that many in society would not have. The levelling out would seem to be one of the consequences and one of the benefits of having this program," said Kobus. "We think it's the right policy direction."
Mrozek believes research used by the Ontario Ministry of Education to support the idea that children learn better when they have early exposure to school is biased.
She cites Dr. Gordon Neufeld, a Vancouver developmental psychologist and author of Hold On To Your Kids, to argue institutional day care socializes kids badly, encouraging them to identify more with their peers than their parents.
"When we examine these things we have to be fair with parents and indicate that this step toward universal kindergarten programs or funding for institutional day care spaces is not universally beneficial for children. Nowhere in the research does it indicate that it is."
In real life, women work and want to work while families also want the best care for their children, said Giesbrecht.
"Just putting money in the pockets of families does nothing to address quality," he said. "We still need supports for families. Parenting is not being done in isolation.
"You still need quality early childhood programs to support the development and growth of children, and just as importantly to support families and the incredibly challenging job called parenting."
The study was comprised of online interviews with 2,200 Canadians and has a 2.2 per cent margin of error, 19 times out of 20.