Early-Years Column

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The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts has upheld a ruling requiring the state welfare department to provide child-care aid to all welfare recipients in state-approved education and training programs.

The administration of Gov. William F. Weld had appealed a lower court's ruling that the state violated the federal welfare-reform law when it froze child-care benefits for some 1,200 women receiving welfare benefits whose education and training plans were not approved before Sept. 4. (See Education Week, Dec. 16, 1992.)

The plaintiffs in the suit argued that without child care they could not pursue education and training activities under the Job Opportunities and Basic Skills Training Program, which provides opportunities for welfare clients to work toward self-sufficiency. The welfare-reform law requires states to guarantee child care to welfare clients in approved activities.

The Supreme Judicial Court last month rejected the state's argument that the law gives states leeway to restrict child-care benefits because of fiscal constraints. The high court also rejected the state's claim that greater harm would be done if the state cut its welfare program over all in order to honor the plaintiffs' right to child care.

While many states are having trouble insuring that child-care programs meet minimum health and safety standards, few expect funds from federal child-care block grants to "sustain or expand'' their efforts to improve quality, a new report concludes.

Based on a survey of state child-care-licensing directors, site visits, and interviews with experts, the report from the U.S. General Accounting Office says that staffing and budget cuts have reduced on-site monitoring of day-care facilities, considered "a key oversight activity.'' The study found that 18 states had decreased the frequency of visits since 1989, and that 20 did not meet the National Association for the Education of Young Children's minimum standard of at least one unannounced visit per year.

According to the report, many licensing officials are concerned that regulations governing the Child Care and Development Block Grant "unduly restrict the amount of money states can use for quality activities.'' They also fear they will have to tap some of those funds to implement vouchers required under the block grant.

To help maintain the quality of child care, the report says, states have stepped up strategies such as screening and training providers and educating parents. But it urges the U.S. Health and Human Services Department to help states evaluate the effectiveness of their efforts, disseminate promising examples, and consider modifying regulations to "insure that states do not expand quantity at the expense of quality.''

Single copies of the report, "Child Care: States Face Difficulties Enforcing Standards and Promoting Quality,'' are available for free from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. General Accounting Office, P.O. Box 6015, Gaithersburg, Md. 20877.

A recent report from the National Center for Children in Poverty analyzes data on the child-care preferences of parents-- especially those of low income--and explores how state and local programs educate consumers about how to choose child care.

It also includes a nine-state study on how welfare recipients participating in the federal JOBS program choose child care.

Copies of the report, "Child Care Choices, Consumer Education, and Low-Income Families,'' are available for $11 each from the National Center for Children in Poverty, 154 Haven Ave., New York, N.Y. 10032.

The center reports in another new study that poverty among young children is far from limited to unemployed families.

The study, which charts trends in the poverty rates of young children, shows that of the 5.3 million children under age 6 living in poverty in 1990, three out of five lived with parents who worked full or part time.

Copies of "Five Million Children: 1992 Update'' are available for $3 each; see the address above.

Preschoolers should participate in physical activities suited to their level of development, but they are unlikely to be ready for organized sports before age 6, contends the American Academy of Pediatrics.

"There is no evidence that children's motor development can be accelerated or their subsequent sports performance influenced by physical training during the preschool years,'' the group states in the December issue of Pediatrics.

A new book by former U.S. Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell urges elementary schools to hold classes for parents on how to stimulate children's learning.

Drawing on data showing that actions to promote learning in a child's first five years can reap significant gains, the book offers tips on "incidental teaching''--using everyday objects and occurrences to spark children's curiosity.

Mr. Bell says schools and Head Start and Even Start programs could use the guide to help educate parents and care-givers.

Information on ordering Keys to Your Child's Intellect is available from Terrel Bell & Associates, Boston Building, Suite 311, 9 Exchange Place, Salt Lake City, Utah 84111. ws--D.C.

Vol. 12, Issue 16

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