nihIn the end, the whole child-care debate may be irrelevant to how children turn out. “Virtually no research has examined the cumulative, long-term effects on children of attending child care arrangements of varying quality as preschoolers,” according to the National Research Council.

Even in the short term, the National Institutes of Health has found that regardless of how much child care a child receives, its effects are dwarfed by the influence of family. Even if it could be proven that child care is good for most children, every child has unique needs. The best solution to the day-care debate is to allow parents to make the decisions that require keeping the unique needs of each child in mind.

The administration’s desire to have every child cared for is commendable, but the desire to remove that responsibility from parents is not. Few issues are more personal than child rearing. Child care should remain safe from government intrusion. Our form of government demands the separation of church and state because religion is a subject of personal conscience and belief. Child care is no less personal. It deserves the same protection for the same reasons.

The twentieth century has witnessed the growth of a government paternalism that treats individuals as victims who lack the wherewithal to take responsibility for their lives. That attitude has taken recent form in debates over everything from censoring the Internet to outlawing candy cigarettes.

Government intrusion into child care is an extension of that attitude, suggesting that parents are unable or unwilling to care for their children. Yet, as we have seen, the vast majority of parents are informed consumers who place primary importance on the quality of their children’s care.

Of course, the government could do more by doing less. Today the average family pays more in federal, state, and local taxes than for food, clothing, transportation, and housing combined. That enormous tax burden has, in many cases, forced both parents to work simply to have the purchasing power that one income used to provide. If the president sincerely wanted to help moms, dads, and children, he could do that in one simple step: He could cut their taxes.

The Facts About Government Intrusion

* The $21 billion child-care proposal comes at a time when taxpayers already pay about 40 percent of the total annual expenditures for child care.

* The president’s proposal is replete with payoffs to big business and unions representing child-care workers.

* More than 60 percent of preschool-aged children are still cared for primarily by family members.

* Politicians sell their paternalism as compassion, but the message is clear: Parents cannot be trusted to protect their children.