To Deter Crime, Law Enforcement Supports Child-Care Programs
The latest support for expanding early-childhood and after-school programs is coming from law-enforcement officials and crime-prevention experts who say such services can "cut crime's most important supply line--its ability to turn America's kids into criminals."
A report released last week by Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, a nonprofit crime-prevention group, says the United States could possibly cut crime in half if it put more money into "proven programs that help kids get the right start."
"Our fight against crime needs to start in the highchair, not wait for the electric chair," the study quotes Police Chief George Sweat of Winston-Salem, N.C., as saying.
The report buttresses the Clinton administration's efforts to increase spending on after-school and other child-care programs. ("Foundation, Feds Join Forces on After-School Effort," Feb. 4, 1997.)
Titled "Quality Child Care and After-School Programs: Powerful Weapons Against Crime," the study cites numerous examples of how such initiatives have reduced juvenile arrests and increased the chances that children will grow up to lead productive lives. For example, one year after the Baltimore police department opened an after-school program in a high-crime area, illegal acts dropped 42 percent in that neighborhood, the report says.
"The time for philosophical debate about whether such investments 'might work' is over," the report argues. Well-implemented mentoring and community-service programs, the authors maintain, can have benefits, particularly for low-income youngsters who are growing up in neighborhoods where they are exposed to drugs and violence.
Home-visiting programs, the study notes, also have the potential to prevent child abuse and neglect. ("House Calls," in This Week's News.)
'A Major Step'
Members of the national advisory committee for Fight Crime: Invest in Kids include police and prosecutors from major metropolitan areas, including Charlotte, N.C., Los Angeles County, and Miami.
Founded less than two years ago, the Washington-based group is supported by grants from a variety of private foundations. Sanford A. Newman, a Washington lawyer, serves as president of the organization, and Marc Klass, the Sausalito, Calif., man whose daughter, Polly, was kidnapped and murdered in 1993, was also involved in the formation of the group.
Fight Crime: Invest in Kids "adds a new dimension to the work we've been doing all these years," said Michelle Seligson, the executive director of the National Institute on Out-of-School Time, based at Wellesley College in Massachusetts. Ms. Seligson's group has been a force behind the development and expansion of after-school programs.
Most recently, the law-enforcement group has been involved in activities promoting President Clinton's child-care proposals, which include more subsidies for low-income families, a boost in funding for Head Start and Early Head Start, and an $800 million increase in spending for the U.S. Department of Education's after-school initiative.
"The president's proposal for child care would be a major step forward, but would still meet only a portion of the need," Elliot L. Richardson, a former U.S. attorney general and one of the founders of Fight Crime, said in a written statement.
Critics of the president's plan say studies show that relatively few children are in "self care" and that when they are, it's only for two or three hours a day. "The data clearly indicate that self-care is a relatively small problem that can be addressed by informal community networks or states," according to an analysis by Darcy Olsen, an entitlement-policy analyst with the Washington-based Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank.
Law-enforcement officials, however, are apparently welcoming the emphasis on prevention programs aimed at children.
A 1996 survey of the nation's police chiefs found that a majority of them believe that increasing spending on programs for young children is a more effective long-term crime-fighting strategy than trying more juveniles as adults or hiring more police officers.
Call to Action
Accompanying the new report is a three-point "call to action" signed by more than 180 police chiefs, sheriffs, and prosecutors, as well as the presidents of the Fraternal Order of Police, the International Union of Police Associations, and the National Organization of Parents of Murdered Children.
The groups recommend ensuring greater access to high-quality, affordable child care; offering "parent coaches" to parents; and providing all school-age children with after-school programs and other activities.