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Need for Expanded Federal Child-Care Services Is Great, Panel Told

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Washington--Funds for the federal social-services block grant should be increased and tax credits for child care should be amended to benefit low-income families, a number of education, health, religious, and business leaders recommended before the Select Committee on Children, Youth, and Families in the Congress earlier this month.

In addition, Gov. Thomas H. Kean of New Jersey and representatives from teachers' unions and child-welfare organizations suggested a variety of methods by which the federal government could improve the quality of child-care programs, including tax credits for corporations that set up day-care programs and aid to school districts that establish before- and after-school programs for latchkey children.

Representative George Miller, Democrat of California and chairman of the committee, called the hearings "the most in-depth Congressional look at child care in a decade."

"With this initiative, Congress is beginning to show the same concern for the kind of child care received by millions of American children as it has for their health and education," he said. "Surely we can play a positive role in this area, as we have in the others."

Cuts in Services

Representatives of the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association assailed the Reagan Administration for cutting funds for Title XX of the Social Security Act, which serves as the major source of federal funds for day-care programs that serve low-income children.

"Title XX has been cut 21 percent," said Loretta Johnson, vice president of the aft and chairman of its women's rights committee. "This 21-percent cut has forced other cuts in state child-care systems across the country."

Because of the cuts, she said, "32 states provided Title XX care for fewer children in 1983 than in 1981. ... We urge the subcommittee to build on the Title XX program and expand it. Like Head Start, Title XX is a program that needs protection from the Reagan Administration's budget cutters."

Strong Foundation

Warlene Gary, associate director of government relations for the nea, also criticized the budget cuts.

Calling early-childhood education a strong foundation for a young person's intellectual, physical, and emotional development during the school years, she said: "President Reagan, as head of an Administration that calls itself pro-family, has nonetheless presented no new federal initiatives for child-care services ... Rather, the Reagan Administration has done harm to the one program at the federal level--the Title XX Social Services Program--which has helped literally millions of families over the years."

Ms. Gary also recommended that the government increase the $2-billion dependent-care tax credit that is currently used by five million families, so that lower-income families may benefit from it.

Expand Programs

Among the other organizations urging expansion of federal child-care efforts was the National Advocacy Project for Family Day Care of the Children's Foundation.

Speaking for the Washington, D.C.-based group, Lori Weinstein, its director, asked that the government increase Title XX with specific funds earmarked for day care. "Title XX funds not only help defray the costs of child care for working parents," Ms. Weinstein said, "but also provide critically needed funds for training child-care providers."

She also requested that the government provide funds to help increase low-income and rural communities' participation in the Child Care Food Program, the largest federal program of family day care, serving some 250,000 children in home day care.

Equitable Policies

Thomas H. Cooke Jr., the mayor of East Orange, N.J., and chairman of the Human Development Committee of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, reiterated the appeal for increased funding of the Title XX Social Services block grant and called for more equitable tax policies relating to child care.

"While the dependent-care tax credit is an excellent universal support for child care, it does not significantly improve the purchasing power of low-income families," Mr.3Cooke said. "Other tax incentives not necessarily tied to out-of-pocket expenditures could be more beneficial to lower-income families and should be considered."

Mr. Cooke also called for federal incentives for the establishment and operation of day-care centers for school-age children in conjunction with local school districts.

"It is estimated that as many as 5 million to 10 million children may be left at home in the early morning and return to empty homes after school," he noted. "Available, affordable before- and after-school child care could help respond to this serious problem."

HR 4193, a bill that would provide seed money to communities to set up and operate child-care centers for school-age children, has passed in the House of Representatives and the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee and is awaiting Senate floor action.

Private-Sector Responsibility

Governor Kean of New Jersey, speaking on behalf of the National Governors' Association, also called on lawmakers to expand tax credits and provide increased funds for child care for low-income families.

But he stressed the responsibility of state and local governments and of the private sector to assist in funding programs. "States should seek a balance of public and private support for families that require child care for developmental, protective, special-needs, or work-related reasons," Governor Kean said.

Calling the demand for day care "pervasive and critical to every segment of the population," he also called for increased flexibility in personnel policies to reflect the changing demands on families; an exploration of alternatives to current day-care programs; and better use of existing care facilities and programs.

"Meeting the needs of children must be one of our highest national priorities," Governor Kean said. "No single sector of society can provide adequate resources for child care,6but through a comprehensive national policy and the coordinated efforts of government, voluntary organizations, and the business community, we can begin to expand these services."

Child Abuse

Addressing one child-care issue that has received increased attention in recent months, Elinor Guggenheimer, president of the Child Care Action Campaign, recommended the establishment of volunteer community panels that would serve as "the eyes and ears of the community" in handling child-abuse complaints.

"We have always known that child care attracts sadists," said Ms. Guggenheimer. She also said it should be illegal for child-care centers to bar parents from visiting at any time.

Joyce Black, public-policy chairman of the Child Welfare League of America and president of the Day Care Council of New York, called for the establishment of a national panel to draft model day-care standards to serve as guidelines for states.

Additional Recommendations

Speakers also suggested:

Enhancing parent-education programs so that parents know what to look for in day-care centers.

Establishing all-day kindergartens to care for young children from 8 A.M. to 6 P.M. on a year-round basis.

Setting up a systematic method of licensing and regulating day-care centers so that children's safety and security are ensured.

Establishing an office within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to serve as a source of information on day-care planning and programming.

Establishing a federal source of funds for training and providing technical assistance to child-care workers.

Holding a national day-care conference so that education, health, and legislative officials could exchange information on common concerns.

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