Daycare or Prison: Does $1 Spent on Daycare Save $7? (broken and misled links)

May 10, 2006
Helen Ward, President
Kid First Parent Association of Canada

Echoes of the infamous “beer and pop-corn” comments that offended voters in the election are causing a ruckus in the House. Dr. Carolyn Bennett, Toronto MP and candidate for leadership of the Liberal Party told CTV’s Mike Duffy that, “it’s a good job they’re putting more money for prisons in the budget, because we’re going to need them if we don’t get this early childhood right.”[1]

The following day Duffy gave her an opportunity to clarify her statements. She mentioned that longitudinal research shows that $1 spent on “early learning” results in a $7 long term savings in crime and other social costs.

These supposed massive long-term social savings of “investing” in “child care” for “at risk” children are largely based on one study known as the Perry Preschool Project. It is cited ubiquitously to support preferential funding for licensed daycare for all from birth to age 12.

But the Perry Preschool Project was not “preschool”, let alone universal daycare from birth to age 12.

The Perry Preschool Project

Way back in 1962, 58 African-American children were put into this high-resource experimental “intervention” project. They were age 3-4, not 0-2 as in infant/toddler daycare. They were selected partly because they had below average I.Q.s (70-85, average is 100) and assessed low “socioeconomic status.” They lived in a very high-crime area. Their mothers were not at paid jobs. They were single and on welfare, and most had been teens when the children were born.

The program was neither daycare nor preschool. It had 3 components:

  1. Parents participated in “regular” meetings.

  2. Teachers did 1½ hour weekly home visits.

  3. Children spent 2½ hours per day in class setting. The child:teacher ratio was 5 or 6 to 1. For comparison, in BC preschools regulations allow 15 children per staff. The daycare ratio for that age is 8:1. Specially trained teachers provided a specially designed intensive, exploratory play & problem-solving program.

Compared to the “control group” of 65 no-program children, by age 27 participants were:

  • less likely to be labeled mentally retarded

  • had higher levels of employment, car ownership, and high-school completion

  • had lower rates of arrests-only 7% had been arrested more than five times

The project calculated savings to be $7 for every $1 spent.

Problems with the Calculation

The hypothesized savings were for the state AND “potential crime victims”(i.e. not just tax dollars). The biggest “savings” were $57,785 (1992 dollars) per participant due to speculated “savings on in-court and out-of-court settlements for would-be victims of crime.” The costs of the project– $12,358/participant–would not include the operating, capital, administrative and bureaucracy costs of a full-time daycare “system.”

What caused the improved outcomes for participants? The parent empowerment components? The classroom time? Both? “Single-component models [of intervention programs], such as those that address only educational factors, have not been shown to demonstrate significant results.”[2]

You have to wonder: if the Project was so successful socially AND economically why has it never been repeated in 44 years?

Only 4% of the participants had mothers with paid work. The rest were “stay-at-home” single mothers on welfare working at caring for their children. Nowadays these families would be put in workfare-plus-daycare programs.

Problems with the Terminology

The terms “at risk” and “vulnerable” are some of the ill-defined terms the daycare lobby uses. Such terms designate not the abused or autistic child, but every child whose family income is under Statistics Canada’s Before Tax Low-Income Cut-Off (LICO). This is called “poverty” by advocates. For a single parent with one child in a city this is $24,745/year (2003). Many families are LICO because parents spend less time at paid jobs in order to do unpaid care work. Yet all LICO children are said to “go to bed hungry every night” (Ed Broadbent), to be neglected, a “social problem” and “at risk”.

This is income-based discrimination: the rich are good and the “poor” are bad. We should get with the program: full-time jobs and put the kids in daycare.

As a low-income single parent myself, I am tired of people like Ms Bennett speaking for me, creating policy that they want by saying it will “help the poor.” The Perry Preschool Propaganda Project plays to the widespread government sanctioned bigotry against lower-income people. Normally intelligent people do not take a closer look at such flaky data when it confirms this view.

It would be much appreciated if Dr Bennett used her influence to transfer the money now going to daycare lobby researchers back to families.


[1] First interview: (misled link) and click “Liberals Endorse Conservative Jail Building Plan.”
Second interview: (misled link) and click “Mike Duffy Live” then interviews with Ms Bennett and Ms Finley.

[2] “The High/Scope Perry Preschool Project” in Juvenile Justice Bulletin, Oct 2000.


“Success by empowerment: the High/Scope Perry Preschool Project through age 27” Young Children, Nov 1993.

Benefits, Costs and Explanation of the Perry High/Scope Preschool Program (broken link),” p.3

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