Early Years Column

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The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services still has not indicated whether it will revise proposed child-care rules that have angered child advocates and members of the Congress. But debate on the issue heated up last month.

The most controversial of the proposed rules, published June 26, would bar states from imposing standards on applicable federally funded programs that are more stringent than those they impose on non-subsidized providers. (See Education Week, July 31, 1991.)

The H.H.S. says the rule, which applies to child care aimed to help welfare recipients or those at risk of welfare dependency pursue education and jobs, is needed to give parents the widest choice of providers, including neighbors and churches not subject to state standards. But critics say it would subvert efforts to improve child-care quality.

At a hearing on the issue last month, Representative Thomas J. Downey of New York, acting chairman of the House Human Resources Subcommittee, charged that the H.H.s. "ignored the clear intent of Congress" and "displayed a cavalier regard [sic] for the safety of children."

Arguing that the rules would "force many states either to relax current minimal protections or refuse federal money," Representative George Miller of California also labeled as "worthless" promises made during the child-care debate "that tough federal standards weren't needed in the law because the Administration would assure high-quality care."

Witnesses from such groups as the Children's Defense Fund, the National Association of Counties, the National Conference of State Legislatures, the National Black Child Development Institute, and state humanservices agencies raised similar concerns.

But others from the Heritage Foundation, the Family Research Council, and the Eagle Forum said caregivers who have gained parents' trust need not be subject to regulation, and Representative Charles W. Stemholm of Texas said "the best guarantor of quality child care is the competition in the open market."

Citing a lack of "consensus among parents as to what constitutes the best care," Jo Anne B. Barnhart, assistant secretary for the H.H.S.'S administration for children and families, said the proposed rules aim to ensure "that each parent's choice is honored."

But the agency is "open to suggestion," she said, in drafting its final rules.

To help state and local officials, as well as parents and providers, determine how well child-care facilities are meeting children's needs, the National Research Council has issued a booklet outlining the characteristics of high-quality care.

The three most important characteristics highlighted by the council, a research organization linked with the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering, are group size, staff-child ratios, and caregivers' qualifications.

Besides providing guidelines on those and other hallmarks of quality, the report synthesizes standards developed by several early-childhood organizations and federal task forces.

Copies of "Caring for America's Children" are available for $9.50 each from the National Academy Press, 2101 Constitution Ave., N.W., P.O. Box 285, Washington, D.C. 20055.

Recent studies from the Child Care Action Campaign and Working Mother magazine highlight how employers can step up their role in meeting workers' child-care needs.

In "Not Too Small To Care: Small Businesses and Child Care," the C.C.A.C. profiled 29 small businesses in 15 states that offer child-care benefits to their employees. The report details the background, costs, and experiences of small companies that have offered such services as onsite child-care centers, child-caro subsidies, resource and referral services, and flexible scheduling.

For more information, contact Barbara Reisman, Executive Director, Child Care Action Campaign, 330 7th Ave., 17th fleer, New York, N.Y. 10001.

Working Mother, meanwhile, reported in its September issue that more than half of the companies on a list of the "85 best companies for working mothers" have their own childcare centers, and several more have plans to open one soon.

The report also noted that two of the nation's largest firms--the International Business Machines Corporation and American Telephone and Telegraph Company--have set up funds to expand child-care services in communities across the country.

The New York City Public Schools and the city's human resources administration began construction last month of the first of four early-childhood centers that they will operate jointly.

The centers, which will combine child care, kindergarten through 2nd-grade classes, afterschool programs, and services for parents, are designed primarily for residents of newly renovated housing in the Bronx.

"This coordinated approach to providing services to the new residents of formerly devastated areas of our boreugh will provide an important element in the renaissance that is taking place in these neighborhoods," Fernando Ferrer, Bronx Borough President, said in a statement.

The project is believed to be the first in which two New York City agencies have pooled funds to offer a "continuum of services and educational programs" for young children and parents. --D.C.

Vol. 11, Issue 07, Page 10

Published in Print: October 16, 1991, as Early Years Column
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