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Experts Debate Day-Care Policy Issues

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The emerging public-policy issues surrounding day care for children and infants were debated by child-care experts and educators at several recent meetings designed to help set next steps for policymakers.

At a conference sponsored by the Spring Hill Center in Wayzata, Minn., and funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, participants considered ways to encourage closer collaboration between schools and child-care providers, according to James Kelly, president of the center.

The positive fiscal status of many states and the continuing influx of women into the workforce, participants concluded, may mark the next 5 to 10 years as the time for increasing the public schools' role in providing child-care services, Mr. Kelly said.

"The best strategy is likely to be to use after-school and before-school care and all-day kindergartens as points of entry," Mr. Kelly said in a recent interview.

After discovering that "there was a lot more of that kind of activity going on than had previously been understood," Mr. Kelly said, conference participants considered piloting collaborative projects in several states.

"There was talk at this conference about next steps, including the possibility that we might find a series of three to five states in which the ground is fertile for collaboration between the child-care and school communities on a state level," Mr. Kelly said.

More Direct Involvement

One view expressed at the meeting was that child-care services should be universally available and that schools should become involved in a more direct way, Mr. Kelly said.

But such an expansion of services, he noted, will require that schools rethink their relationship to the community. "What is going to have to happen if the schools are to be involved is that they will have to form new relationships with churches, with community groups, with parents," he said. "They will have to learn new ways of thinking of their relationships to clients."

The Spring Hill Center will publish a series of papers on the conference, including a summary of the proceedings. For more information, write James Kelly, Spring Hill Center, County Road 6, P.O. Box 288, Wayzata, Minn. 55391.

Adolescent Care

Participants at a national conference on after-school care for 10- to 15-year-old children, labeling adolescents the "invisible population," called for increased public awareness and community involvement in providing programs for this age group. They also addressed the question of the public schools' role in helping provide such programs.

The conference, "Setting Policy for Young Adolescents in the After-School Hours," was sponsored by the Center for Early Adolescence at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the Johnson Foundation and was held at Wingspread in Racine, Wis.

"Large numbers of adolescents are unattended after school," said Joan Lipsitz, director of the Center for Early Adolescence at the University of North Carolina. Although es-timates of the numbers of unsupervised adolescents are unavailable on a nationwide basis, she said, local studies suggest that from 20 percent to 56 percent of parents leave their 10- to 15-year-old children alone in the afternoon.

Calling the problem "the 3 P.M. to 6 P.M. issue," Ms. Lipsitz said, "I think harm is being done. We are going to start seeing awful statistics. I don't think that you can leave large groups of kids of this age group on their own ... and not start to see those statistics of alienation rising again. My sense is that we're sitting on a time bomb.''

But she added: "We're in a position right now while there is public attention being paid to this issue to beat out the statistics."

The child-care workers, educators, public-policy officials, and others attending the conference agreed that the issue of adolescent care must be clarified and brought to the public's attention.

Lori Orum, senior education-policy analyst with the National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic civil-rights organization, said the situation must be conceived of as the responsibility of the entire community.

She also noted that school policies must change. "If the schools continue to think of themselves as the agency that educates between 9 A.M. and 3 P.M., and that's when their responsibility ends, then that's no longer an adequate policy."

Redefining the Issue

Some conference participants argued that the concept of after-school care for young adolescents has not yet been defined clearly enough to build programs upon.

"When we talk about addressing the 3 to 6 P.M. issue, are we talking about child care?" asked Gayle Dorman, director of training for the School of Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "Are we talking about drug-abuse and alcohol-abuse prevention? Are we talking about youth development? Are we talking about survival skills? Are we talking about intervention with children who are already in trouble or at risk? What do we want in the after-school hours for 10- to 15-year-olds?"

John A. Calhoun, executive director of the National Crime Prevention Council, noted that "a subtle but pervasive barrier to both the provision and use of accessible services persists in the confusion in this country about who young adolescents are and what we want them to do."

Such youths, he said, are too old for a babysitter, but too young for paid employment. And while most parents agree that children under age 10 should not be left unattended from 3 to 6 P.M., and 80 percent of parents agree that by age 16 teen-agers can be left without supervision, he said, no consensus emerges about children 11 to 15.

Recommendations

Recommendations made by participants for those working on the issue of after-school care included: involving the entire community--especially parents--in solving the problem; framing the issue in terms of children's safety; thinking of youths as individuals with resources to contribute to communities during after-school hours; and providing care-giving institutions--including schools--with guidelines for standards, staff development, and programming.

Infant-Care Issues

A panel of a dozen prominent child-care authorities held its first meeting last month in New York to consider recent research and formulate possible policies for employers dealing with two-career families.

The problem the group will address is how employers can recognize the need of families with two working parents for infant care and/or leaves of absence that do not jeopardize their job security.

Members of the panel--called the Bush Center Advisory Committee on Infant Care Leave--will discuss research on infant-care leave conducted by the Bush Center in Early Childhood Development and Social Policy at Yale University, according to Edward Zigler, director of the center. The committee is financed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Bush Foundation of St. Paul.

Forty-eight percent of all mothers with children under age 2 are in the workforce, yet it is rare for employers to grant paid infant-care leave, Mr. Zigler said.

Group members--who include Mr. Zigler; Wilbur Cohen, former Secretary of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare; and Blandina Cardenas Ramirez, former Commissioner of the federal Administration on Children, Youth, and Families--will study state standards for infant care, the costs of such care, and infant-care programs in foreign countries, Mr. Zigler said.

The group plans to issue a public-policy statement or a series of recommendations within a year, Mr. Zigler said.

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