Participants at Hearings Debate Need For National Measures in Child Care
Washington--Senator Alphonse M. D'Amato, Republican of New York, and Representative Mario Biaggi, Democrat of New York, have introduced a child-protection bill that would establish a nationwide employee-screening mechanism for all child-care facilities.
But national child-care experts who testified on the bill last week said parent- and child-awareness programs are more effective and important in efforts to prevent child abuse. And the National Education Association last week unveiled a multimedia teacher-training program to help teachers detect and report suspected child abuse.
Representative George Miller, Democrat of California and chairman of the Select Committee on Children, Youth, and Families, introduced the hearings on the connection between child abuse and child care by noting the current condition of child-care services in the United States.
"During the past year, we have learned that the child-care system is diverse, haphazardly regulated, and inadequately supportive of either those who provide the care or the families who use it," he said.
"I think I can speak for my colleagues and my constituents when I say that we are shocked and angered by [recent reports of] tragic incidents," he said. "They apparently know no geographic bounds and are not particular to any one type of child-care setting."
Problem of National Scope
Calling sexual abuse of children "a problem of national scope [that] we as a nation can no longer ignore," Representative Biaggi noted that "current law only requires that day-care centers meet state and local standards. Unfortunately, these standards vary greatly from state to state and are insufficient to prevent the tragedies that have prompted Senator D'Amato and me to introduce this legislation."
Congressman Biaggi's bill--HR 6207, the national child-protection act--would set up a nationwide screening system to apply to all child-care services in all states, regardless of whether they receive federal funds. Those states that do receive funds for child-care services under Title XX of the Social Security Act must, under the act, require that no day-care provider be licensed if the provider or any employee has been convicted of child abuse, child molestation, or a similar act.
"It is clear that there is a need for federal guidelines and minimum standards in this area," Congressman Biaggi said.
The bill also calls for the establishment of an advisory panel on child protection, which would be made up of members appointed by the President and the Congress to advise the Secretary of Health and Human Services on standards and guidelines for day-care centers.
But several representatives of national child-advocacy organizations, while noting that increasing federal funds for day-care programs would be beneficial, commented that efforts to improve day care through federal regulations or licensing checks may not be the most useful strategies for dealing with the problem.
"I am deeply concerned about proposals to respond to the child sexual-abuse problem by imposing employee-screening standards on licensed day-care facilities," said Anne H. Cohn, executive director of the National Committee for Prevention of Child Abuse.
Maintaining that screening day-care workers will not stop sexual abuse, Ms. Cohn said it will instead impose "unnecessary burdens and costs" on day-care centers while giving lawmakers, the public, and parents a false sense of security.
She noted that there is no checklist that will identify perpetrators, that most sexual abusers do not have criminal records related to molestation or abuse of children, and that most preschool children who are not in their parents' care during the day are not in licensed day-care settings.
"The single most promising avenue to preventing sexual abuse at this time is arming children and parents with knowledge about self-protection of children," she said.
Kee MacFarlane, director of the Child Sexual Abuse Diagnostic Center of the Children's Institute International in Los Angeles, called for a "community disaster model" for dealing with child-abuse emergencies.
"There are no models, no plans, and virtually no experience for dealing with this sort of attack upon our children," said Ms. MacFarlane. She has interviewed more than 400 children alleged to have been sexually abused by the personnel in preschools they attended. Among them were pupils from the Virginia McMartin Preschool in Manhattan Beach, Calif., where seven teachers have been indicted on charges of abusing children and are being investigated for allegedly involving some of the children in a child-pornography and prostitution ring.
Ms. MacFarlane also described the process of investigating and uncovering abuse in child-care centers when several adults are believed to be involved, either within the school itself or in conjunction with a larger ring of adults outside the school.
"What we find ourselves dealing with is no less than a conspiracy--an organized operation of child predators designed to prevent detection and usually well-insulated against legal intervention once its existence is suspected," she said.
Need To Enhance Care
Several child-care advocates who testified last week said sexual abuse in child-care centers must be viewed in the overall context of the quality of child care.
Bettye M. Caldwell, president of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, said the success of any solution to the sexual-abuse problem will hinge on its ability to enhance those aspects of child care that are known to be important.
Among those, she noted, are qualified staff members, an adequate number of staff members, decent working conditions, and ample opportunities for informed parent selection and observation of, and participation in, child-care programs.
Ms. Caldwell also called on the child-care profession to continue to monitor itself through such efforts as an accreditation initiative of her organization that is designed to promote joint monitoring of child care by parents and providers.
"Fingerprinting day-care providers and running criminal checks on prospective employees may catch an incidental individual who should never have been allowed into a child-care program," she said. "But shortcut solutions of this nature will fail to address underlying and far more pervasive problems," such as the low status and inadequate training of care providers, insufficient encouragement of parental participation, and meager resources for the implementation and monitoring of qualitative improvements.
Added Marcy Whitebook, director of the Child Care Employee Project in Berkeley, Calif.: "The greatest single protection against child abuse in day care is the child-care worker. ... As the need for child care continues to grow through the Continued on Page XX
Experts Debate National Child-Care Standards
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decade, the demand for child-care workers will soar. Now is the time to decide who we want--not just who we don't want--to take care of our children."
In an effort to teach elementary- and secondary-school teachers how to detect and report incidents of child abuse among students, the National Education Association last week announced the completion of a teacher-training program.
The program, called "Child Abuse and Neglect: The nea Multimedia Training Program," was developed by Cynthia Crosson Tower, assistant professor of behavioral sciences and coordinator of the human-services program at Fitchburg State College in Massachusetts.
The American Association of School Administrators, the National Association of Secondary School Principals, the National Association of Elementary School Principals, the National pta, and the National School Boards Association also contributed to the project, which includes filmstrips, audiotapes, and printed matter on detecting, reporting, counseling about, and understanding child abuse.
"Teachers and other school employees are involved with child abuse for three main reasons," said Mary H. Futrell, president of the nea "The trauma created by abuse and neglect is as much a detriment to learning as a perceptual or physical difficulty. Teachers are in daily contact with children, and teachers are required by law, in all states, to report child abuse and can be held liable for failure to do so."
She called the program, which was developed at a cost of $20,000, an "early-warning system" to help teachers detect abuse at the earliest possible stage.
The series, which sells for $199.95, can be ordered through the nea at 1201 16th St. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036.