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Schools Can Aid One-Parent Families

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Washington--Despite the increasing number of children from single-parent families, the schools continue to operate as though every child "has two parents, with one who stays at home."

"Schools are often the last institutions in society to change," asserted Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children's Defense Fund and a speaker at a two-day conference here on single-parent families and the schools.

Lack of Sensitivity

"The school climate is not geared toward the child or the parent in a single-parent family," Ms. Edelman said. "School curricula, school operations, and teacher training all suffer" from a pervasive lack of sensitivity to the problems that arise because of differing lifestyles, she added.

And because of that insensitivity, Ms. Edelman said, "children from single-parent families are made to feel different and left out."

Numbers Growing

At the same time, she pointed out, their numbers are growing dramatically. Between 1970 and 1982, she said, the number of children living in single-parent households increased by 62.4 percent, from 8.4 million to 13.7 million. Twenty-two percent of all children lived in such families last year, she said, compared with 12 percent in 1970. More than 90 percent of those children lived with their mothers, she noted.

The conference was sponsored by the Home and School Institute, a Washington-based research and service organization.

The conference speakers, who included Dr. Benjamin M. Spock, the pediatrician and author, urged school administrators to be more supportive of the children from single-parent homes and those children whose mothers work outside the home.

"Single mothers and fathers need the support of their society to help them manage the conflicting demands on their time and creativity," Ms. Edelman said. "The extended family is often no longer available to help with child care, child rearing, and income support."

Relaxing Policies

In many instances, school administrators could show support by relaxing policies that prevent parental involvement for single and working parents, according to Connaught C. Marshner of the Child and Family Protection Institute.

"What I favor is a change of policy and a change of attitude encouraging respect for parents and encouraging flexibility of approach," she said.

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