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A Judge Who Disrespects Day Care

If nothing else, the recent decision by Michigan Circuit Judge Raymond R. Cashen to remove a child from the custody of a mother who placed her in day care demonstrates that the judge should be reading more widely.

In addition to his lawbooks, Cashen should look at the June issue of the Monthly Labor Review, published by the U.S. Department of Labor. There he might be surprised to learn that almost half of U.S. children now live in families where Mom works outside the home.

Over the past 20 years, the proportions of married mothers in the labor force rose dramatically. By 1992, the Monthly Labor Review reports, two-thirds of all married mothers were working or looking for work. That’s married mothers, those women who presumably have some choice in the matter. Unmarried mothers, like Jennifer Ireland, the woman in the Michigan case, do not even have that luxury. They have no choice, save welfare, but to work outside the home or acquire the skills to do so.

Ireland, a mother at 16, has chosen education and gainful employment over a potentially dead-end existence on welfare. But incredulously, that decision has cost her physical custody of her 3-year old daughter.

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Ireland and the father of her child never married. She lived at home in Mt. Clemens while finishing high school; her mother cared for the baby. Last fall Ireland moved to Ann Arbor to attend the University of Michigan on a full scholarship. She enrolled her daughter in day care. Even Judge Cashen says it’s good, licensed day care, in a private home.

But last week Cashen awarded custody of the girl to her father, who did not see her during her first year, solely because his mother has promised to care for the child full-time while he’s at work. Ireland is appealing the decision. Despite what even Judge Cashen acknowledges is a deep, positive bond between Ireland and her daughter, he ruled that day care by blood relatives is inherently superior to care by anyone else and this factor should determine custody.

That’s why the judge should also spend some time with a recent study by the Families and Work Institute, which found that care by relatives was often no better, and sometimes worse, than that by day-care centers. And when he’s finished, he should think hard about whether he might not harbor an unspoken bias against the growing millions of mothers who work, whether by choice or necessity.


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