Affording Good Parenting

Derek Thompson points to research showing that the marriage gap between the rich and poor is creating yet another problem:

[T]here is a persistent and widening parenting gap in America. Rich college-educated families score well on parent quality tests, according to a new paper by Brookings scholars Richard Reeves and Kimberly Howard. But poor, less-educated, and often-single parents are falling short, spending less (and less-quality) time with their kids. Just 3 percent of parents in the bottom quintile – and just three percent of single moms and dads — scored among the best parents in the time-use research collected by Reeves and Howard.

He writes that intervention may be required:

Americans seem less comfortable with direct efforts to make bad parents better, such as sending professionals into houses to teach parenting skills. Families, after all, are considered the most private institution there is. But Reeves and Howard focus on precisely these house visits as an answer to the parent gap.

Timothy Taylor considers the potential of such visits in the US, noting that “other countries like Netherlands and the United Kingdom have much more active programs of home visitation for parents of newborns”:

In the U.S., the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010 allocates $1.5 billion over five years for increased home visitation programs. Studies by the Department of Human Services have identified several home visitation programs that had some effect at least one year after enrollment. A private organization called the Nurse Family Partnership has been testing and expanding approached to home visitation for several decades. Under these kinds of programs, new parents and parents of pre-school children might receive biweekly home visits invitations to regular meeting groups of new parents, and perhaps also some access to educational books and toys.

Again, the evidence about long-term efficacy of such programs, especially at a large scale, is still in a nascent stage. But these authors offer a radical thought: It may well be true that the government should reallocate a substantial share of the money that it currently spends on preschool programs and move it toward parental visit programs for families with very young children.

Kay Steiger is glad the issue is gaining attention, and adds another suggestion:

[T]he gap the media spends the most attention on — those pesky high-income helicopter parents with their attachment parenting styles and how they compare to the “rest of us” who read newsweekly magazines — isn’t really where the focus should be. (Surprise.) Rather, it’s those at the bottom of the income ladder who have the the most to gain from small gains in parenting skills.

The authors lay out some really great solutions — universal pre-K, nursing visits — and miss a pretty major one: Paid family leave. But the idea that parenting is a gap to which attention needs to be paid is worth considering.