Early Years Column

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A major child-care bill being considered by the Congress is fraught with "church-state problems,'' according to Americans United for the Separation of Church and State.

A legal analysis by the group's general counsel, Lee Boothby, says the $2.5-billion "act for better child-care services'' would prompt an "immediate court challenge'' in its current form.

He contends that the "ABC'' bill would allow parental vouchers and training and referral funds to go to church-affiliated centers, which make up a large share of the day-care market.

Such assistance, Mr. Boothby says, would be "no different from'' parochial-school aid programs that the courts have held unconstitutional.

He adds that the bill's licensing requirements, anti-bias statutes, and ban against funding "pervasively sectarian'' activities would invite government inspection of church-run centers and could hamper churches' free exercise of religion.

Representative Dale Kildee of Michigan, the bill's chief House sponsor, has said he wants to revise its church-state clauses to avoid legal problems without excluding church-run centers.

President Reagan has not yet adopted a formal position on child care, but a recent report by Secretary of Labor Ann Dore McLaughlin could set the tone for an Administration policy.

A task force appointed by Ms. McLaughlin concluded that women's increasing participation in the workforce has made child care an important labor issue but said there is no "across-the-board availability crisis.'' The report contends that most families with working parents have found some form of care.

In addition to the $1.2-billion Head Start program, the federal government spends about $6.8 billion on child-care-related services through tax subsidies, food programs, block grants, and education and training programs, according to the report.

Saying state and local governments and employers have become more involved in child care, it calls for "flexible'' policies tailored to families' needs.

Some children's advocates have criticized the report for minimizing the shortage of satisfactory, safe, and affordable care--and for offering no indication of a major federal effort to address the problem.

The 150-page report, "Child Care: A Workforce Issue,'' or a 20-page executive summary, are available free from the Office of Public Affairs, U.S. Labor Department, 200 Constitution Ave. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20210.

Children placed in full-time day care before the age of 1 do less well in school and in peer relationships than those cared for by their mothers until after infancy, two researchers from the University of Texas at Dallas have found.

The study by Deborah Lowe Vandell and Mary Anne Corasaniti examined the social, emotional, and cognitive development of 236 8-year-olds in a Dallas suburb.

Using parents' accounts of their children's early care, the researchers compared various groups placed in full- and part-time care during or after their first year and those cared for by their mothers until kindergarten. They attempted to control for such factors as sex, social class, and parents' marital status.

Children who began full-time care after their first year were rated by parents and teachers as more cooperative than those placed in such care in infancy.

But they were rated "more difficult to discipline''--and performed less well in school and with peers--than those who had maternal or part-time day care.

Regardless of age of entry, the researchers said, children in part-time care performed well.

None of the child-care situations they examined were of "optimal'' quality, the researchers said, which may have contributed to the negative findings for those in full-time care.

They also said studies tracing child care from birth--instead of relying on parents' accounts--would be more reliable.

A study by the House Select Committee on Children, Youth, and Families concludes that federal investments in children's programs remain cost-effective but fall far short of need.

The report, which updates the findings of a 1985 study, summarizes the benefits of eight federal programs providing health, nutrition, education, and training services for at-risk children and their parents.

It calculates, for example, that $1 spent on childhood immunizations can save $10 in later medical costs, and that $750 a year in compensatory education can save the $3,700 cost for a child to repeat a grade.

The report notes that only a fraction of the eligible beneficiaries receive such aid and argues that additional federal investments could yield far greater savings.

Another new study indicates that some children are biologically prone to shyness and are likely to remain introverted as they grow up.

The study, reported by Jerome Kagan and Nancy Snidman, psychologists at Harvard University, and J. Steven Reznick, a psychologist at Yale University, in the April 8th issue of Science, suggests that shy children are born with physical traits that cause them to react differently to unexpected events.

Shy infants in the study displayed higher heart rates, dilated pupils, and muscle tension when faced with stress.

The researchers found that infants with extreme shyness at age 2 were likely to remain inhibited at age 7. External stresses--such as the death of a parent or family conflicts--may make shyness more pronounced, they said. --DG

Vol. 07, Issue 33

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