Bad childcare in this country? Guilty as charged

Bad childcare in this country? Guilty as charged
At Akitoi Learning Center in El Monte, teacher Nancy Villegas and student Andrew Mora sing Christmas songs. Los Angeles County has lost more than 11,000 childcare spots since 2008, a number that hits low-income parents hardest. (Bethany Mollenkof / Los Angeles Times)

You wonder why people dodge jury duty? You wonder why people hold government in low regard?

Here's another exhibit:


Laura Trickle was called up for jury duty in Jackson County, Mo., in January. She got a postponement because she was close to delivering her baby.

Five months after her son was born, she got another jury summons. She let the court know she was breastfeeding the boy, but she was told to report for jury duty. She had two choices: She could either leave the baby in childcare or bring him to court — along with someone who could take care of him while she was serving jury duty.

When Trickle came to court with her 7-month-old baby but no babysitter, she was hoping for something — maybe a postponement or exemption. Instead, she was cited for "willfully and contemptuously" showing up for jury duty "with her child and no one to care for that child."

Trickle's point is that she is a stay-at-home mother with no childcare to fall back on, and that she can't store breast milk for her son because he won't take a bottle.

There's a hearing Thursday to determine whether she has to pay a $500 penalty, and where the case goes from here. If she had that kind of money, she could have hired someone to sit in the courthouse with her son while she meted out justice.

Already, a Missouri state legislator is ready to propose a law exempting breastfeeding women from jury duty, as they are in a dozen other states.

But that is not the solution, because this jury duty incident is not the problem. It's a symptom of a much vaster problem.

Childcare in this country is terrible. It's an expensive hodgepodge of inconsistent quality; while $10 billion in government money nationwide goes to childcare, parents still pick up at least 60% of the cost — if they can find decent care at all. Licensing requirements vary widely from state to state, and in 41 states, all you need is a high school diploma to be a regulated childcare provider.

It's hypocritical to natter on about the virtues of family, putting it right up there with Old Glory and apple pie, and then do not much to help them.

The political satirist Art Buchwald lampooned this 30 years ago, imagining a new mother coming to ask an antiabortion U.S. senator for some help with the baby. The senator has his picture taken with mom and baby, and tries to shoo her out of his office. He tells her the government can't take care of children, and that she should get a job. "I'm trying to," she says, "but even if I found one, I couldn't afford the daycare center."

That fictional senator would probably also have told her she shouldn’t have a baby she couldn’t afford, even though he voted to cut money for family planning clinics. (That’s another reason Obamacare opponents are on the warpath: mandated birth control coverage. Political scolds are still telling women that if they don’t want to get pregnant, they shouldn’t have sex. Who’s telling men that every time they unzip, they could beget a child they’d be legally required to live with and care for and educate for the rest of that child’s life? Would that put a damper on the ardor?)

I wondered whether the group, which is about keeping children safe in and around vehicles, sees any correlation between childcare problems and dangers to kids in cars. No one — absolutely no one — is to be excused in any way from the criminally negligent culpability of using a Buick as a babysitter, but to some desperate women, it may look like a last resort.

They, like the mother visiting the fictional senator, are trying to work but desperately need some way of watching the kids too. And parking them in the car at their workplace — even though it's putting the kids in deadly peril and the parents at criminal risk — is all they can come up with.

Amber Rollins is the director and volunteer manager of They are aware, she says, of instances where parents have left kids alone in cars because "they did not have caretaker options." The organization hasn't collated all the numbers, in part because "so many of these incidents go unreported, which makes it very difficult to track," she told me.


But many parents find themselves having a job but no childcare, and they "may not fully understand the dangers that children face when left alone inside a vehicle. Heatstroke is just one of them."

Axel Trickle is a lucky little boy, and his mother says she'll be happy to report for jury duty once he's weaned. Unfortunately, it's too much to hope that by then, the system that gives lip service to kids and families will have grown up itself.


Follow Patt Morrison on Twitter @pattmlatimes