From a conversation on OT involving the daycare link I shared both there and here, Oscar and Kazzy disagreed with the notion that church-run childcare is tricky. The argument is that they should be treated like any other childcare institution, and given that they are (for the most part) in some states means that it’s Constitutionally permissable (and not an infringement on religious liberty) to do so.

I agree with the first part, though am skittish on the second. There is no doubt that with some possible basic exceptions there is not a Constitutional conflict. I don’t think that entirely lets us off the hook, however.

There are a lot of good reasons to have regulation when it comes to childcare. While excessive licensure may be an issue in some domains, it’s hard to imagine childcare without some sort of licensure regime. Parents don’t know what goes on after they drop their kids off, kids are not necessarily able to articulate what’s going on, and parents may not entirely believe them when they do. It’s not like a bad haircut either in terms of actual damage done or in the ability to hold people accountable (in the case of a barber, simply not going there again).

There are definitely limits to this, though. Not just in how rigorous the requirements should be, but where they should apply. Lain’s babysitter, for example, is completely unlicensed. It’s the daughter of one of my wife’s colleagues. She may have some basic training, but certainly hasn’t undergone any rigorous process or anything of the sort. But we leave our daughter with her because we know her family, trust her upbringing, and we’ll take that chance over someone with all of the appropriate paperwork that we do not know. We’ll obviously take the discount as well, though that’s obviously not the issue for us that it is for other people.

I don’t think that’s entirely dissimilar to a church. I think there can often be that same sort of intimate relationship where the common faith and social relationship can stand in replacement of the ordinary markers of trustworthiness. That a parent might reasonably trust their church to look after 15 kids while a private entity needs to cap it at 10 (or whatever). The existence of the regulation makes it so that parents who don’t have a church, or a colleague’s daughter, or whatever can have maybe a little degree of assurance that it’s not a bum outfit that is going to abuse their child. But with that option available, alternate arrangements for others also seems reasonable.

Which is not to say that I want to give churches a pass. Like I say, it’s tricky! Because you don’t want churches running reputable childcare centers out of business on the basis of the lower costs they can achieve through these exemptions. You don’t want someone to set up a center, hang a cross by the shingle, and do whatever they want. This is further complicated by the fact that governments tend to loathe trying to discern genuine faith and the genuine faithfulness of an institution. I can definitely understand why Kazzy in particular, who views things from the prospective of a provider, believes that it’s important for all providers to maintain certain standards of care with no exceptions.

It could also be the the exemptions I might carve out would be pretty worthless anyway. That’s something Kazzy would know a lot better than I do. But I’d be less inclined to support a “religious daycare” outfit that wasn’t actually connected to a place of worship or religious organization that exists apart from the center… though that would likely put me in more First Amendment hot water than what the states are doing. I also might look at churches that offer day care selectively to members of their faith. That may not be workable, either of all of them flat-out rely on outside families. So the end result might be that I end up supporting all of the same regulations as Kazzy and Oscar, if a bit more reluctantly.

Category: Statehouse

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7 Responses to The Cross & The Seesaw

  1. greginak says:

    I think once you start taking money your churchness becomes secondary. Maybe a church has some members watching small children during a service or something like that for free. No big deal. But if you are charging then you are running a business. Then you need to act like a business and not want special dispensations.

  2. Kazzy says:

    I think it is important to know what the actual regulations are. Here are New York State’s:

    These are for day care centers. Other types of settings have other sets of regulations, though I’m pretty confident any church-based setting would be considered a day care center.

    There are some MAJOR differences between a baby sitter and a day care center. Chief among them is that the former almost always works in your home. That means you have control over the environment. This is not the case with day care centers. And the ability of parents to educate themselves on the physical environment of a center is limited, to say nothing of a center’s ability to mislead.

    The only section I could really see objecting to on “religious” grounds is 1.7: Program Requirements. This is the closest it comes to prescribing “philosophy” or “curriculum” but using either of those words to describe what they require is almost comical. It requires that the center communicates with parents what their approach is, but says nothing of what that approach ought to be. It has some basic guidelines that would fall under the umbrella of ‘best practice’ but are written vaguely enough that it would take a pretty egregious deviation to be found in violation.

    For instance:
    “(e) Children must be provided an opportunity to choose between quiet activities
    and active play.
    (f) Children must be provided with a program of self-initiated, group-initiated and
    teacher-initiated activities which are intellectually stimulating and foster selfreliance
    and social responsibility.
    (g) Activities which provide children with opportunities for learning and selfexpression
    in small and large groups is required.
    418-1.7(h) 418-1.7(n)
    Effective June 1, 2015
    (h) If television or other electronic visual media is used, it must be part of a
    planned developmentally appropriate program with an educational, social,
    physical or other learning objective that includes identified goals and objectives.
    Television and other electronic visual media must not be used solely to occupy

    I could see how people could think of examples of child care practices that would be in violation of those but I don’t think it’d take a PhD in early childhood to somehow show that they are consistent with these very general standards.

    Now, this is NYS. I don’t know how it works in other states. My hunch is NYS is likely to have more/stricter regulations than most other states. But maybe I’m wrong.

    So, yea, color me unconvinced. If we were talking about the state prescribing curriculum or outlawing certain philosophical approaches, I’d object to them. But we aren’t. We’re talking about basic safety and health of the child (and I’d say some of these requirements don’t go far enough).

    • trumwill says:

      We do drop our kid off for babysitting. Since the aforementioned sitter is a family friend, we don’t have a whole lot of concerns there. When we hired somebody through, we took a look around and made a judgment from there.

      Thanks for the link to the actual regs. I am mostly going off the types of regulations in the article, which are almost universally regulations I would support for a Yellow Pages outfit, but am less comfortable applying to a church program: Personnel training requirements, ratios, and no corporal punishment.

      Those are things I would definitely want from Lain, and think are pretty reasonable standards for for-profit centers, but I can also see parents willing to do differently when it comes to their church. The same applies, except moreso, to the 1.7 items you mention.

      The main concern I have with treating them differently is the cross-as-shield concern. This touches on your next comment, where people go with the church because it’s cheaper and not because they’re necessarily with the program. This resonates a bit because our preschool is through a church and while cost is not an issue for us I can imagine it would be.

      If I were to oppose exemptions, it would be because it’s difficult to thread that needle. The preschool we drop our kid off to is, as far as we’re concerned and putting actual theistic beliefs aside, doing the Lord’s Work! We’ve been so impressed that we’re probably going to sacrifice our savings and give them a donation so that they can let some other kid go expense-free. They abide by all state regulations (told us so when we first talked to them!), but (at least knowing what I know now) I wouldn’t let that be a barrier.

      Either way, I do think parents should definitely know whether the daycare is exempt from regulations.

      One thing that might move me more strongly in one direction or another is a comparison of statistics between states with states at different levels of regulation. North Carolina vs Georgia vs Texas, Alabama vs Arkansas vs Mississippi, Illinois vs Indiana vs Ohio, and so on.

      • Kazzy says:

        Am I reading this correctly that you would support an exemption for church-based centers to use corporal punishment?

        There are actually a number of states that still allow corporal punishment (and I bet that group overlaps quite a bit with the group that offers church-based centers exemptions).

        If I heard you write, I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on it.

        • trumwill says:

          Boy, you ask me that ten times you’re likely to get seven answers. It’s one of those cases where my political/philosophical instincts and moral instincts are diametrically opposed.

          My moral instincts say “No, no, no. Not ever. Not under any circumstances. We may not be able to stop parents from doing this in their own home, but we can avoid it becoming part of a professional apparatus.”

          My political/philosophical instincts say that we live in a pluralistic society where different people have different values and as long as we’re not talking about abuse (however we define the distinction), parents and educators may both believe that it is mutually beneficial to use this form of disciplining… and on and on.

  3. Kazzy says:

    To go a bit further, I think you are framing this incorrectly. These regulations aren’t about protecting parents. They’re about protecting children. And while I do think we should give parents a pretty wide degree of latitude with regards to making decisions they believe are in their child’s best interests, I don’t think that means anything goes.

    You talk of the parent who says, “I trust the church lady to supervise more children than the law would otherwise allow.” And while that person may exists, I think you are more likely to find a parent thinking, “Hey, the church day care is cheaper but it isn’t like they are going to put my kid in harm’s way, right?” And that parent is likely ill-equipped to know what constitutes “harm’s way” vis a vis day care centers. And they may not even know that the church day care is cheaper because it is unlicensed.

    Licensure and regulation is no guarantee that a center will be quality or even safe. But it does mean that the center will have practiced fire drills and will store food properly and, if they don’t, there are enforcement mechanisms and opportunities for parents to seek redress.

    Let me ask you, Will: How far would you extend these religious exemptions? Would a religiously-affiliated hospital be exempted from hospital regulations? Could a Catholic ‘doctor’ practicing in a church basement do so and title himself as such if he isn’t actually a doctor?

    • Oscar Gordon says:

      Could a Catholic ‘doctor’ practicing in a church basement do so and title himself as such if he isn’t actually a doctor?

      See “Pastoral Care”

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