Photo: Alessandra Hartkopf for Strategies for Children
Photo: Alessandra Hartkopf for Strategies for Children

Ivanka Trump could be a champion for child care – and for lower child care costs.

That’s the argument that former Boston Globe columnist Joanna Weiss makes in a recent Globe opinion piece.

Weiss also asks a key question: Who should take care of very young children?

The answer is complicated. Obviously, parents play the most vital role. But what should happen when both parents work? And how does the country cope with the fact that many of the families who most need child care struggle to afford it?

Weiss says Ivanka Trump could help forge an answer.

“As the president’s daughter chats up bigwigs and members of Congress [to support working women], here’s hoping she’ll bring up the most fundamental challenge for working families: the impossible economics of child care.”

Last year, another Globe opinion piece took on the high cost of child care, noting:

“The Commonwealth has the most expensive child care in the country. Parents of infants pay, on average, about $17,000 a year for a spot at a day-care center — in other words, $6,000 more than in-state college tuition, according to a new report by the advocacy group Child Care Aware. For single parents, this represents 61 percent of their income.”

One irony, Weiss says: “These prices, mind you, aren’t making American child-care workers rich; in 2015, their median wage was $9.77 an hour. Operating margins at day-care centers, meanwhile, have historically been thin.”

As for parents, they face “a child-care system in disarray, riddled with long waiting lists and general discontent, dragging on economic mobility and sometimes public safety. Which raises a question for Ivanka, and for all of us: At what point should government step in?”

The government did step in during World War II, subsidizing child care to enable women to work on military bases. In addition, federally funded Head Start programs provide care for low-income children. But typically, government-funded public education begins when children are 5 years old, leaving parents to manage the early years on their own.

Weiss writes:

“Raise Your Hand if you’ve heard this one: ‘If you can’t afford to have kids, don’t.’ This argument presumes that children under school age are purely a private matter — unlike older kids, who are everyone’s problem. It also presumes that the current line of demarcation of public and private is inherently logical, maybe even immutable.”

In fact, child care policies are not immutable. They can and are being modernized to meet the needs of today’s families. What’s missing is widespread support and funding. That’s something Ivanka Trump could talk about.

Weiss sums up, saying:

“The upfront cost, of course, would be a challenge. But a bigger one might be abandoning the fundamental idea of a public-private divide, that invisible barrier that, for generations, has kept us from talking about what child care really means. Tackling the crisis of child care will mean reconsidering where the family’s responsibility ends and the public’s responsibility begins.

“It’s been done before.”