I’m not a parent. I have no plans to be a parent in the near future. But if I did, I would definitely have some core concerns about my childcare options should I choose to study or work at Brown. I’m aware of the struggles that working parents and student parents face in finding convenient, affordable and safe childcare programs for their family. An article in The Herald (“Day care for U. community shuts doors,” Sept. 4) brought this issue close to home.
The University closed Taft Avenue Daycare Center at the end of August. Taft had provided much needed care for the children of Brown faculty, staff and graduate students. It was near to campus and cheaper than other day care centers in the area. It’s true that Taft was plagued with facilities issues, which was a central reason for its closing. That makes sense – young children need to be in a clean, comfortable and secure environment.
But to focus on Taft’s problems misses the point. The plain truth is this: Brown should be providing quality day care for its community that is also inexpensive and conveniently located.
Other institutions, as well as many workplaces, offer their employees some sort of childcare program. Cornell, for example, boasts an on-campus day care center with room for over 150 children. When it closed, Taft was only serving 16 children. Cornell’s rates are cheaper than the national average of large cities, which is almost $1,000 per month. And Cornell is not alone. Penn also features its own day care with cheaper-than-average rates. These two universities – both Ivy League institutions like Brown – are not unique. Many schools, including tiny liberal arts colleges, offer similar services.
Brown is supposed to be one of the premier institutions of higher learning in the world. So why can’t we support the professors, graduate students and staff who make this distinction possible by providing their families with adequate care? High-quality childcare should be part of every employment package. It’s right up there with health care in terms of what’s important to employees and their families.
Childcare at Brown is poor in comparison with its peer institutions. But looking beyond institutional childcare services reveals a broader national trend regarding this issue. In general, childcare and maternity leave options in the United States are inferior to those of other nations. The happy family is an American ideal. So why aren’t employers doing everything in their power to support families?
Now let me hit you with some shocking statistics. These figures will force you think carefully about what message American policy, in comparison with that of other nations, currently sends to parents.
In the United Kingdom, a mother is granted 39 weeks of paid maternity leave, but most employers offer even more. In Denmark, parents split a whopping 52 weeks of paid leave. And in Norway it’s 56. That’s more than a year. More than 160 countries guarantee paid maternity leave by law, with over 100 of these governments guaranteeing at least 12 weeks. So what about the U.S.? How many weeks of paid leave does a parent receive by law? That would be zero. Nada. Zip.
Given this fact, it’s not too surprising that even top-notch institutions like Brown fail to respect the needs of working parents. This current situation is the status quo, and though the issue is widely discussed, real change has not occurred. Anne-Marie Slaughter’s controversial article in the Atlantic magazine, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” exposed the difficulty women continue to experience in balancing motherhood and careers. Brown, as the liberal and progressive institution that it is, must position itself to combat this problem.
If you’re an undergraduate reading this column, you probably have more pressing concerns than who will care for your future kids between infancy and preschool. But if we want there to be reliable options in place if and when the time for children comes, we need to start pushing for them now.
The parents of the children at Taft formulated a petition, which received over 1,700 signatures. Obviously, good childcare is important to a broad spectrum of people. In response, Provost Mark Schlissel P’15 put together a committee to discuss this petition and the future of childcare at Brown. This is a step in the right direction. It proves that Brown is aware that childcare is an important issue. I hope that some discernible change results from these discussions and that the administration does not ultimately ignore the matter because of cost. Brown has the opportunity to make a statement about the condition of family support in the nation by simultaneously improving its own.
Maggie Tennis ’14 really hates babysitting – yet another reason she supports quality childcare.