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Why My Government Run Playgroup Doesn’t Work

July 5, AD2016

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By intervening directly and depriving society of its responsibility, the Social Assistance State leads to a loss of human energies and an inordinate increase of public agencies, which are dominated more by bureaucratic ways of thinking than by concern for serving their clients, and which are accompanied by an enormous increase in spending. In fact, it would appear that needs are best understood and satisfied by people who are closest to them and who act as neighbours to those in need.

Centesimus annus by St. John Paul II

There are not a lot of stay-at-home-moms here in Portugal and consequently, there are not a lot of playgroups, play dates, or activities for children during the day. I don’t mean to criticize one of the few playgroups available to us and that we participate in. I am very thankful for it, at this stage in our family. However, I knew from the start it had serious defects.

The More Local, The Better

Our playgroup is funded by big entities here in Portugal, and even by the European Union. It is actually a study that is being run by a fancy university. When I tell people this, they are very impressed. It seems as if the more “high-up” something starts, the better. When in reality it would be better if it were more grassroots.

There is a Catholic principle called “subsidiarity” that I would say applies here. There is a really great article here on CatholicStand by Leila Miller that explains what subsidiarity means. Basically, things should be organized at the lowest and smallest level possible. Intervention by greater, more centralized levels should only happen when the lower levels need help.

My Playgroup is Organized by the European Union

In the case of my playgroup, do we really need the European Union to “organize” a few kids from my neighborhood to play together twice a week? As impressive as that might sound, I think the playgroup would work better if not even the national government were involved or the numerous associations and non-profits that are “participating” in this project. We have a need as a family, which is that our children, who are at home, have other children to play with. I think the best idea would be to organize ourselves with other families and neighbors. Perhaps a parish-level organization or something else very local would be beneficial.  Nothing higher than that.

In our playgroup, no real friendships have been formed. Many people never showed up in the first place, and many people dropped out during the school year. Perhaps if it had been more local, there would have been more opportunities for genuine friendships to develop naturally.

The “Social Assistance State”

This playgroup is part of a study which is focused on “social inclusion”. It seeks to help parents who aren’t able to afford to put their 0-4-year-olds in daycare. The organizers think that is the best place for children to socialize and develop cognitively, so if families are unable to provide that for their kids, they are there to help us. This is a little offensive to me as a stay-at-home-mom by option, especially since I dislike the idea of daycare at all. However, I accept that the program will have good benefits for us, even though their basic premise is wrong.

I have a need, which is for my child to play with other children. I need help to find other children who aren’t in daycare all day as is mostly the case here in Portugal. However, who is most competent to help me with my need? Do I really need the government or the European Union? The problem when the principle of subsidiarity is not applied is that help doesn’t work as effectively when organized from further away. The government acts paternalistic but it is failing to carry out its own mission statement.

To Support families, Not to Undermine Them

Finally, this playgroup operates on the fallacy that children are better cared for by the “school” than by their families. They plan activities to unite the parents so that they can network and help each other because if they don’t have their children in daycare they are obviously disadvantaged. They teach the parents how to play with their children because obviously their children are not “stimulated” enough at home. This reminds me of a concept I’ve heard is in Plato’s Republic, in which the State takes children from their parents so they can educate them and both men and women can have “equality” and be free to work.

My children are not in daycare, so they have a need for playing with other children that maybe children and daycare do not have. That does not mean that there are no disadvantages to having children in daycare and that they don’t have specific needs.

Catholic teaching is very consistent in teaching that the family is the smallest cell in society and should be protected and supported by all other levels and organizations in society. This teaching is not what our modern societies promote, in which family is to be “redefined” (read: eliminated) or is even a nuisance in the development of children, such as my playgroup would have me think. We are called instead to promote the family, look to each individual family’s needs and focus our action around that.

Photography: See our Photographers page.

About the Author:

Julie Machado is a 30-year-old Portuguese-American who grew up in California, but moved to Portugal to study theology. She now lives there, along with the rest of her family, her husband and her children. She believes the greatest things in life are small and hidden and that the extraordinary is in the ordinary. She blogs at Marta, Julie e Maria.

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  • Guy McClung

    Elsewhere I have said something like this summed up in the saying: It Takes Families To Raise A Village. And a spinoff of this is: it takes holy families to raise a holy village. Subsidiarity in practice means that some entity other than The State has some power over people – and this is why a power-seeking secular state not only ignores subsidiarity, but tries to insure that it is in no way implemented – if subsidiarity were implemented, that would mean there is some power that The State does not have [or does not yet have]. Julie-this is a very insightful piece, keep it up. Thank you. Guy McClung, San Antonio, Texas

    • Julie Machado

      Wow, that’s a great point. Thank you!