Thursday, December 31, 2015

Comparing the quality of child care services of Finland and the United States

I've spilled much ink on how social democracy is a far more efficient welfare system than one that relies on the private market. Again, when aggregate (private plus public) welfare spending is about the same in the United States as the social democracies, it's clear that social democracy is a far more efficient use of resources.

But this perspective overlooks how much better social democratic welfare services are compared to private market services in the United States. Here, I highlight child care in Finland as an example, but the same analysis could be repeated for nursing homes or other areas of social welfare.

By law, all Finnish children have a right to child care services their family can afford, but even the wealthiest parents are only charged a couple hundred dollars per month. Sara Mead describes the high quality of these services:
Publicly funded kindergartens and preschool in Finland are of quite high-quality, with quality standards roughly on par with those universal pre-k advocates seek for publicly funded pre-k programs in the United States. Kindergartens must have at least one adult for every seven children over age three, for every four children under age three, or for every two one-year-olds (infants under age one are rarely enrolled in kindergartens because Finland offers generous parental leave supports for parents in their child’s first year of life).
To ensure high quality care, there are strict credentialing standards for workers:
One out of every three adults working in kindergartens holds a bachelor’s degree as a certified kindergarten teacher (in effect, the lead teacher in each classroom). The other two adults must hold credentials as “licensed practical nurses,” a vocational degree that is roughly equivalent to a high school diploma with specialized education and training to work with young children.
Finnish child care centers must strictly adhere to a set cirriculum, which also helps to ensure high quality care:
Kindergartens must adhere to the National Curriculum Guidelines for Early Childhood Education and Care in Finland—comprehensive standards for child care environments and activities that address the developmental needs of the whole child—and with more detailed early childhood plans that each municipality must create to implement the national curriculum guidelines. These guidelines are aligned with the National Core Curriculum for Preschool Education in Finland, which is in turn aligned with the National Core Curriculum for Basic Education. These class size, teacher qualifications, and curriculum standards make the programs offered by Finnish kindergartens higher in quality than those offered by many state pre-k programs and Head Start centers in the United States.
Compare this to the American child care system (emphasis added):
In Texas, a person only needs a high school qualification or equivalent to operate a home day care. (That includes online degrees.)...Caregivers are also required to attend a state-sanctioned education session. According to a trainer, Tata had wandered in and out of the classroom, put her head down on the table, and spent much of the time texting. But since the law only requires applicants to show up, Tata had satisfied the requirement.
By national standards, Texas child care regulations are typical—better than average in some respects, worse in others. That is to say, they are painfully minimal. “You know, when we walk into some of these places, they’re meeting the letter of the standards,” Lahmeyer says. “But it’s like a warehouse for children. You know it when, as the inspector, you are the most interesting thing the kids have seen all day. They attach themselves to you and are trying to engage because there’s nothing else going on for them.”
Like most states, Texas inspects child care centers at least once a year, but only has the manpower to visit home day cares every two. Even egregious violations don’t always lead to shutdowns. Sometimes, that’s because parents, lacking alternatives, fight to keep notorious places open. An inspector named Carol McGinnis told me she’d recently visited a center in “total disarray,” with “feces smeared on the walls.” Nevertheless, if the agency closed it, McGinnis expected some parents would resist, because it was one of the few places offering care on weekends.
On other occasions, the process of closing a day care can be torturous. Lahmeyer recalled one place that racked up repeated violations over two years before a judge would shut it down. “I can tell you there’s a fair number [of cases] that we lost because the judge decided, No child’s died yet, so they stay open,” Lahmeyer says...I asked McGinnis how many of the area’s providers she’d trust with her own child. She answered promptly: “Twenty percent.”
All Finnish children are legally entitled to child care services that are of higher quality than is available to all but the very richest American children.

Again, I could easily repeat this analysis for nursing homes or other areas of social welfare. Service quality is far higher for the social democracies than the American private sector.

The supposed strength of the American welfare system is the ability to chose providers. By voting with your feet, the best providers will thrive and the worst will go out of business. More choice is always better.

But when all of your social welfare options are universally awful and exhorbitantly expensive, it's clear that this philosophy has failed in practice.

Footnote: At the end of the piece on Finnish child care, this author makes a ludicrous claim:
Moreover, creating a Finnish-style system of universal early care and education from infancy on would be hugely expensive. A system that works well in a country 400,000 children under age seven would be far more difficult—and costly—to implement in a country with nearly 21 million children under age five.
According to the United States Census Bureau, 6.2% of the United States population is under the age of 5. According to Tilastokeskus, the Finnish equivalent of the Census Bureau, 5.5% of the Finnish population is under the age of 4. In other words, there is actually a higher percentage of young children in Finland. It would be less expensive per capita to transplant this system from Finland to the United States. I've discussed the issue of scaling of social welfare programs at length here. There is no problem of scale; any of these universal social welfare systems could be transplanted to the United States.


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