Day Care Linked With Less Crime

Last Editorial Review: 4/28/2000

WASHINGTON, April 28 -- Ground-breaking research shows that the failure to assure families access to child care is multiplying the number of children growing up to be violent, according to a new report presented to the White House and members of Congress today.

The good news according to the report is that government action to expand access to quality child development programs can greatly reduce youth violence. The report is called America's Child Care Crisis: A Crime Prevention Tragedy. It was prepared by an expert panel convened by Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, an anti-crime group of over 700 police chiefs, sheriffs, prosecutors, victims of violence, and youth violence experts. The authors are pediatrician T. Berry Brazelton of Harvard; Yale child development expert Edward Zigler; University of Pennsylvania criminologist Lawrence Sherman; two former police chiefs, William Bratton of New York and Jerry Sanders of San Diego, each of whom achieved record crime reductions in their cities; and Fight Crime: Invest in Kids president Sanford Newman, and research director William Christeson.

Dr. Brazelton, a well-known pediatrician and the author of a number of books on child development, emphasized that "rigorous scientific research now proves the early childhood development programs that help kids in so many other ways are also our most powerful weapons in the fight against youth violence."

Major Studies Greatly Strengthen Link Between Day Care and Less Crime

Three major new studies of thousands of children show that early childhood development programs can achieve extraordinary reductions in behavior problems, crime and violence:

  • A large 14-year study followed over 1,000 children enrolled in government-funded Child-Parent Centers at ages 3 and 4. Compared to children left out of the program, the CPC children were only half as likely to have two or more arrests in their teens. The program has served 100,000 youngsters at 24 centers over the last 23 years.
  • A North Carolina study shows that when the state's Smart Start program bolstered child care quality in some centers, those children were half as likely as similar kids to have serious behavioral problems when they reached kindergarten.
  • A further large national study of existing child care centers shows that at-risk kids who attend high-quality child care programs as babies and preschoolers have no more behavior problems at age eight than children of college-educated parents.

These studies have all been completed in the last 12 months, and the Child-Parent Center study has just been completed. They greatly strengthen the findings from small studies of model programs, such as the High Scope Foundation's Perry Preschool Study, in which 120 at-risk children had been randomly divided into two groups. Half the children had been enrolled in a quality child-development program for one to two years, at ages three and four. Twenty-two years later, the children left out of the program were five times more likely to have become chronic offenders, with five or more arrests.

A Conservative Sheriff Speaks

Sheriff Patrick Sullivan of Arapahoe County, Colorado was asked to comment. (Columbine High School in which the massacre occurred in 1999 is in Arapahoe County.) Sheriff Sullivan said, "I'm a conservative Republican, but this is not a political issue. But when failing to provide at-risk kids with quality educational child care can multiply five times our risk that those kids will become chronic lawbreakers, it's just common sense to expand Head Start, child care and early learning funds. Shortchanging these investments squanders lives and tax dollars." Sullivan noted that the High/Scope study had shown that the public saved $7 for every dollar spent, and that the large new CPC study showed similar savings. "We'll win the battle against youth violence when we are as ready to guarantee a kid a place in Head Start or an early learning program as we are to guarantee a criminal a place in a jail cell," Sullivan said.

The National Sheriffs Association, Major Cities Police Chiefs Organization, Police Executive Research Forum and dozens of state law enforcement groups have urged elected officials to make sure families have access to quality educational child care. Polls by George Mason University professors Scott Keeter and Steve Mastrofski, show that nearly nine out of ten police chiefs believe "expanding after-school programs and educational child care programs like Head Start would greatly reduce youth crime and violence."

The Need to Invest in Our Children

The report concludes that federal and state funding for early childhood development programs are currently inadequate. For example, it notes that:

  • Head Start, the child development program for children living in poverty, is so under-funded it can serve only half of the three and four year olds eligible, and usually for just half of their parents' work day, and for only part of the year.
  • The Child Care and Development Fund, which helps families pay for child care, can serve only one in ten of the families that are eligible, and provides them with stipends so meager that adequate care usually remains out of reach.

Since adequate child care requires trained teachers and high ratios of teachers to children, it is not inexpensive. In every state, the cost for an infant to attend a good urban child care center exceeds the cost of public university tuition. Even though many child care teachers are paid poverty wages, child care for two children can cost $12,000 per year. That is clearly way out of reach for parents making $10,500 a year at full-time minimum wage jobs and for millions of other financially struggling families.

If government makes these investments in early childhood development programs, it appears we can greatly reduce violence and help youngsters become the good neighbors and happy, healthy adults they can be.


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