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Report on 'Quiet Crisis' for Young Children Stirs Loud Response

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Washington

A Carnegie Corporation of New York report sounding the alarm about a "quiet crisis'' facing the nation's youngest children evoked a loud and emotional outpouring of support from top government, business, health, and education officials at a meeting here last week.

Hillary Rodham Clinton, the first speaker, conceded that it will take uncommon "political will and institutional fortitude'' to fill the report's mandate. But there is reason for optimism, she said, simply because of the players involved.

"This room is filled with people who are willing to work to make it happen,'' Mrs. Clinton said.

The 30-member task force of leading health, education, and child-care experts that prepared the report chronicled the declining status of large numbers of young children and highlighted research on the importance of the time from birth to age 3. It also showcased successful models for spurring healthy development and offered a broad set of recommendations on health, education, and child care to reverse a pattern of social neglect of young children. (See Education Week, April 13, 1994.)

While other reports attempting to rally support for children have met with limited success, panelists said they were hopeful that the widely publicized Carnegie meeting would invigorate the movement to bolster support for children and families.

Besides Mrs. Clinton, the conference featured four Cabinet secretaries, former and current governors and mayors, one member of Congress, business leaders, and medical and child-care experts.

Dr. Jonas Salk said the report could offer the same kind of "relief'' felt by Americans about 40 years ago when the polio vaccine that bears his name was licensed. The strategies the report lays out, he said, signal "that it will be possible to prevent not only the crippling of bodies but also of minds of children early in their lives.''

"But we have also learned,'' he added, "that where there is a way there is not always the will.''

'False Debate'

Mrs. Clinton said the children's movement has been thwarted by a "false debate'' between one camp that believes families should be held solely accountable for children's outcomes and another that says society must assume responsibility for downtrodden families.

The Carnegie report, she said, rightly targets interrelationships between the family and society and urges parents, communities, and the private and public sectors to join in crafting solutions.

Mrs. Clinton highlighted steps the Administration has taken to ease family burdens, such as expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit. In a pitch for the health-care-reform plan she helped draft, she also argued that the Carnegie panel's goals cannot be met without universal health coverage.

Attorney General Janet Reno, Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley, Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna E. Shalala, and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Henry G. Cisneros each talked about the steps their agencies are taking.

Their proposals on crime, health, welfare, Head Start, school readiness, homelessness, and housing constitute "the most coherent urban and family strategy in 25 years,'' Mr. Cisneros said.

Some participants chastised Ms. Shalala for appearing to dodge questions on how to boost the caliber of child care and of day-care training to meet the increasing demand for affordable, high-quality infant and toddler care.

Ellen Galinsky, a co-president of the Families and Work Institute and co-author of a new study highlighting the poor quality of many family day-care homes, noted that good early care is pivotal to welfare reform. (See story, this page.)

Hope, Opportunities

Others urged more family-friendly workplaces and called for a continuum of family services.

Besides urging better health-care and family-planning services, Kenneth J. Ryan, the chairman of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, said that the Centers for Disease Control should track teenage pregnancy and that states and communities should set goals to reduce it.

Herant Katchadourian, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral scences at Stanford University, described a middle-grades life-sciences curriculum he has piloted that blends scientific and practical information on parenting.

But Gloria Rodriguez, the president and chief executive officer of Avance, a Texas-based network of family-support programs, suggested that such steps will not work without "relationships, opportunities, purpose, and hope'' in children's lives.

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