Broad Strategy for Improving Children's Well-Being Urged

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Washington--While the National Commission on Children, chaired by Senator John D. Rockeller 4th of West Virginia, has drawn widespread attention this summer for its proposal to ease the tax burden on families, its tax-policy recommendations are just one part of a broad strategy for improving the welfare of the nation's children.

The panel's 519-page report chronicles how dramatic changes in family structure in recent decades have jeopardized children's well-being. It cites rising rates of poverty, child abuse, divorce, out-of wedlock birth, and single-parent homes.

The commission, established in 1987 under legislation introduced by Senator Lloyd Bentsen, Democrat of Texas, based its findings on intensive research as well as a series of public hearings, town meetings, and visits to 11 communities.

Its most salient conclusion, Mr. Rockeller said in releasing the report, is that "children are the big economic losers of the last decade."

While most youngsters are thriving and well cared for, the report states, rising numbers are languishing, and "even those children who are shielded from the personal effects of poverty, illness, and extreme misfortune confront circumstances and conditions that jeopardize their health and well-being."

The report faults parents and policy makers for neglecting their individual and collective responsibility for the next generation, and endorses stable, two-parent families as the ideal setting in which to raise children.

It also proposes a wide range of steps to improve children's lives, from tougher child-support enforcement and revamped child-welfare services to expanded Head Start and job-training programs.

Dissent on Health Care

While the bipartisan 34-member commission endorsed the report as a whole, nine panelists objected to the majority's call for universal health coverage for all children and pregnant women and offered their own chapter on health issues.

Although the panel did not endorse a specific funding source, it estimated that its recommendations would cost from $52 billion to $56 billion a year to adopt, and offered some options for generating the needed revenue. Its proposal for a refundable, $1,000-per-child tax credit for all children through age 18, at a cost of $40 billion per year, would be partially offset by eliminating the existing personal exemption for dependent children. (See story, page 42.)

The report also recommends:

  • Pilot testing a government-insured system of collecting child-support payments.
  • Making Head Start available to every eligible child.
  • Urging schools to adopt reforms promoting school-based management, equitable financing across school districts, and "multidisciplinary" initiatives for children at high risk of failure.
  • Encouraging states to explore interdistrict public-school-choice plans.
  • Calling on parents, private- and public-sector leaders, communities, and the entertainment industry to create a "moral climate for children."
  • Encouraging family-oriented public- and private-sector policies such as family and medical leave and flexible work schedules.
  • Restructuring child-welfare services to place more emphasis on keeping families together, while streamlining foster placement and adoption for children who cannot remain in their parents' care.
  • Reorganizing federal, state, and local agencies to forge a more collaborative and comprehensive approach toward children and family services.

Single copies of the report, "Beyond Rhetoric: A New American Agenda for Children and Families," are available for free from the National Commission on Children, 1111 18th St., N.W., Suite 810, Washington, D.C. 20036.

Vol. 10, Issue 40

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