Institutional Rot

04.15.1310:20 AM ET

America’s Day-Care Hell

New research shows child care in the country is hugely expensive, unregulated, and occasionally deadly.

American day care is a mess—hugely expensive, unregulated, and often mediocre or worse. A National Institute of Child Health Development survey rated a majority of American day-care operations either “fair” or “poor,” and in 22 states, they cost, on average, more than rent. In Missouri alone, there were 45 documented day-care deaths between 2007 and 2010. Even in the absence of tragedy, bad day care does lasting damage. “[O]ver the past two decades, researchers have developed an entirely new understanding of the first few years of life,” writes Jonathan Cohn in a New Republic cover story, “The Hell of American Day Care.” This period affects the architecture of a child’s brain in ways that indelibly shape intellectual abilities and behavior.”

No parent wants to leave his or her child in an unsafe, stultifying environment, but without any public support for better child care, many have no choice. A Texas inspector describes facilities that meet the state’s minimum standards but are nonetheless run like warehouses. “You know it when, as the inspector, you are the most interesting thing the kids have seen all day,” she says. “They attach themselves to you and are trying to engage because there’s nothing else going on for them.”