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Confronting the Child Care Crisis
Child Care: A Comprehensive Guide
By Stevanne Auerbach
Openroad Integrated MediaCopyright © 2011 Stevanne Auerbach
All rights reserved.
WHO NEEDS CHILD CARE?
The American family today faces many complex challenges. The basic problem the family must confront is sustaining itself as a viable institution in the midst of numerous economic, social, psychological and personal pressures. There are no easy solutions but there are hopeful signs that indicate new directions.
The challenge of maintaining and providing for a family is very real for millions of people. There never seems to be enough money to clothe, feed, house, entertain or educate children. Even in the face of continued inflation, cutbacks in government spending and political dissension, the issues of child care and the continued needs of children must gain the interest and support of the public.
Our potential rests with our children. The example adults set for them now reflects how we care about them and will help them grow as responsible and loving citizens. The philosophy of child care, and world of work and the family, should be based upon a premise of mutual support, concern and responsibility.
Enormous transformations are taking place in society, and in the attitudes of women as they actively seek to re-evaluate themselves in their new roles as mothers, workers, students and responsible citizens. Millions of women have returned to work over the past decade. The necessity or interest in returning to work has forced a new definition of mother/wife/career woman on husbands and children. Men, as fathers and partners in the new working and shared home-work combination, have had many adjustments to make in redefining their own role in the family. The two partners need to find ways to share jobs at home with each other and the children. Many other millions of women, and an increasing number of men, are singly responsible for the care and upbringing of children, which poses special and different challenges for adults and children.
An article in the book Toward a National Policy for Children and Family observed:
Any report on child development must examine the environment in which most children grow, learn, and are cared for — the family. The American family has been undergoing rapid and radical change and is today significantly different from what it was only 25 years ago. Changes in the structure and functioning of the family have significant implications for children and for all institutions concerned with their growth and development.
The working woman and the changes for families are reflected in data compiled by the U.S. Department of Labor Women's Bureau:
In 1978, 60 percent of married women with children between the ages of six and seventeen and 44 percent of those with children under six were either working or looking for work. Of those who had jobs, two-thirds were working full time.
In 1974, there were 970,000 divorces or reported annulments involving roughly 1.2 million children. This rate is increasing sharply.
In 1978, nearly one in every five children under eighteen was living in a single-parent family, more than double the figure in 1950.
In 1977, more than 16 percent of American children were living in families with incomes below the government-defined poverty line.
Of the 3.2 million children in families with incomes of less than $5,000, 60 percent live in single-parent families.
In 1975, there were only about 1.7 million children in all licensed day care centers, Head Start programs, and approved family day care homes — compared with a total of 18.2 million children under six in the United States. About 6.5 million of these live in families in which the mother is in the labor force.
The quality of care provided in such facilities varies enormously, and a majority of family day care homes and centers are rated as only poor or fair by observers trained to evaluate programs.
In 1974, approximately 4.7 million children aged three to five were in some form of preschool program, 75 percent of these children were in for only part of the day. Preschool programs enrolled 79 percent of the five-year-olds, 38 percent of the four-year-olds, and 20 percent of the three-year-olds in the country.
A substantial majority of substitute (nonparental) care in the United States is provided under informal cooperative arrangements with neighbors, relatives and friends.
More than two million school-age children have no formal care at all between the end of school hours and the time parents return from work.
A significant number of women do not receive adequate prenatal care, resulting in high rates of infant mortality and morbidity. Among forty-two nations keeping comparable statistics, the United States ranks sixteenth in infant mortality.
One out of three of America's 20 million children do not receive adequate health care, including access to primary care, complete immunizations and prompt and early treatment of disease. A recent survey in Syracuse, New York, for example, showed that 55 percent of children had no demonstrable antibodies to Type 1 polio virus.
Family Pressures Are Society's Challenge
Society today places a great deal of stress on parents and children. The utmost amount of sensitivity, communication, mutual support and commitment is required to deal with the stress that affects, in varying degrees, each member of the family. How individual members of the family handle the daily pressures is the real test; the assistance the family is given is society's challenge.
Statistics can show only the surface pressures and stresses on couples, which are reflected in the increasing incidence of divorce over the past ten years. As these changes bring with them a personal, societal redefinition and restructuring of services, the results can only be constructive. The family's needs require a closer examination, and by taking these aspects apart piece by piece, we may be able to reshape services in a new and, perhaps, more effective and satisfying way.
For example, many women returning to work following divorce or death of their spouses are fully responsible for supporting themselves and their children. They are confronting many new problems. The care and raising of children are tremendous responsibilities even when two people communicate and agree with each other. But for many couples, rapid societal changes have also brought about such profound changes in their relationship that many of them choose to separate rather than handle the stress.
Vast changes are taking place in the world of work, causing additional problems for families. Many of these problems have resulted from an apparent insensitivity and lack of commitment (or follow-up) on the part of federal, state and local governments to respond to the societal responsibility of taking care of children while parents work.
The creation of, and amount of support for, ongoing child care services determine families' abilities to cope with many of these changes. Attempts to assist families often have been piecemeal efforts. Research or "demonstration" programs are scattered throughout colleges and universities, but do not result in a firm commitment to make services available. The final effect has been even more destructive to the fragile nature of the family structure and has greater potential for long-term negative effects on the children. If children who need care are to get it, an ongoing support service must be available from infancy through school age.
It is of paramount importance that our entire society reinvestigate what can be done with our current resources to find new ways to support the family through child care. If we wish to be productive, it is impossible to do otherwise. If society is, in fact, interdependent, then mutual support and understanding will build a better and more creative society. If the problems of our neighbors are considered our own, then we need to look again at new ways to assist all our children in becoming cared for, educated and eventually productive, satisfied adults. It benefits everyone to have a society in which individuals' needs are considered realistically. In other countries where a long-term support system is carried out, individuals look upon themselves and their government differently, and this difference is reflected in their productivity as members of society. If attitudes change, many other changes can take place without increasing budgets or staff levels.
Child care became critically important in this country during World War II when women were needed in the work force. During the war children were found abandoned, or sleeping in overheated automobiles, and untimely deaths occurred. These tragedies were brought to the attention of Congress by the president's wife, Eleanor Roosevelt. As a result of her concern, the Lanham Act was passed in 1942. This legislation resulted in child care services springing up all over the country, particularly around war plants. Those services helped reverse the traditional picture of a mother at home.
Dr. James Hymes, a director of the early Kaiser shipyard-sponsored child care programs, has said, "There were many additional services provided to the parents, like hot meals after work that could be taken home. There was a real concern for the child and it was expressed in the quality of the programs....
"America needed womanpower to win the war. The federal government set up and supported child care centers for the children of war-working mothers."
These early child care centers took their name from Congressman Fritz Garland Lanham of Texas, who introduced the legislation. As First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt created an effective lobby on behalf of child care legislation. At the peak of the Lanham Child Care Center Program (it ended in 1946), 129,474 young children were enrolled. This indicated that in all parts of the country, serving parents from all backgrounds, America had demonstrated how a good program for young children could be conducted to the benefit of everyone concerned. The Lanham Centers, moreover, operated all day long, not just from 9:00 A.M. to 3:00 P.M. These centers were geared to working mothers.
When the war ended, parents wanted the children's programs to continue because they saw the benefits of social and educational interaction. As Bernard Greenblatt reports, "Women in New York City organized and brought strong pressure to bear on Governor Thomas E. Dewey to resume state aid for day care. They picketed his residence; he called them communists. Maternal pressure to continue the Lanham programs in Michigan after the war also led to charges of communism. Representatives of nine professional and women's groups met with and presented a series of recommendations to President Truman, for example, favoring federal aid to public schools and including provision for nursery schools and kindergartens. The meeting proved fruitless, apparently, as the mothers and preschool advocates had failed to understand that social parenthood was only patriotic during a war or national emergency."
It is not simply the care of children that is or has been at issue. The controversy surrounding child care services relates to our current trends in political, economic and personal attitudes toward children. Some of these are more subtle than others. Child care affects, at one time or another, all families — welfare parents, as well as middle- and high-income families; white parents, as well as black; Spanish, Chinese and all other ethnic groups — it involves everyone who is concerned about national employment stability, family support and the well-being of children. In the end, everyone, including the employer, the political system and society as a whole, is affected by the availability or absence of child care. Without it, mothers cannot sustain themselves and children are damaged.
From this perspective, I have long seen the need to increase not only understanding of the problem but wider acceptance and willingness to do something about it. Without a commitment to carry out what yet needs to be done, it is doubtful whether the efforts made by thousands of professionals and parents throughout the country can be sustained or improved. Because children's services have been so undermined and mismanaged by political, economic and social forces over the years, many programs that might have been working favorably on behalf of families have either been closed or have been operating at minimum efficiency.
As a mother I, too, am concerned about the survival of the child care system. The present and future problems of women in this country are deeply affected by the availability of child care services and something innovative can and must be done. Shortcuts are not feasible. Concerted efforts must bring us together with the best application of national, state and local planning. Improvement can occur if a new process is created for getting the job done from Washington, D.C. As a nation, we have in the past solved problems by taking cohesive action. There is no reason not to reach the heights in solving the dilemma of serving the best interests of our children in child care.
Selma Fraiberg explains the tremendous social costs involved when society neglects its children.
The cost of maintaining children in poverty cannot be calculated in dollars and cents. For those who like to work out the figures, I would suggest some of the factors that need to go into the calculation. The lost and broken human connections which are the common lot of many young children in poverty are directly related to the social diseases of poverty. School failure, juvenile crime, mental instability are increased in any population in which the bonds between the children and their human partners are absent or eroded as in the circumstances of poverty. Malnutrition in utero and throughout the years of childhood is directly related to the high incidence of disease and early death in the families of poverty. The omnipresent neighborhood dangers and crime which every ghetto child experiences will infect a very large part of the child population and provide irresistible vocational models for the vulnerable. The climate of self-denigration and despair in the ghetto will do the rest. By the time the welfare child has reached the age of six, his net worth in cash and I.Q. will be calculated for him, and he will know it isn't much. If he survives to the age of marriage, he is likely, as the rest of us are, to reproduce the patterns of his child rearing for his own children.
Money is an important resource, but not the whole problem. Political leaders' commitment and willingness to provide the actual services are vital. Social policy planners, organizations and parents themselves are other important factors. More federal funds and high program standards must be maintained to insure quality.
Certainly when women were required in the work force during times of national need, solutions to the critical problems of child care were found. The need for these valuable services did not go away, but has continued to be a problem for families. The services should be developed despite the obvious barriers.
The State of the Nation
Politicians all too frequently carry out the business of the country in the most expedient and least efficient manner possible. Legislation is often introduced and passed whether or not it will serve the people's best interests, either for the short or long term. The reality of the situation is that politicians are pressured by business, industry, and other special interest groups. As a result, many of the services that are required for the basic maintenance of individuals and families are shunted aside while other issues that appear more expedient, more politically interesting or directly compensating are addressed. Thus, the more subtle problems of families are cast aside or dealt with in unrealistic terms.
The situation today is that the family, as we know it, is undergoing enormous strains and is not getting adequate political attention. Certain trends, though, make the problems loom larger. Over the last twenty-five years, women did not return to the home after childbirth but continued working. The cost of living has increased, forcing them to supplement their husbands' incomes. In addition, many mothers became single parents, whether through deaths of their husbands, divorce or their own choice.
There is a relationship between the absence of child care services and the breakdown of the family. The lack of these services comes at a time when parents do need to work or attend school and take time to gather their own personal resources together. During these times, if politicians had the broader interests of society as their primary concern, they would make decisions on the need to improve the conditions of families. It may be that the absence of child care services, when it has been needed these past ten years since the veto and resulting lack of coordinated action, not only contributed to the breakdown of the family, but also to the higher incidence of child abuse, abandoned children and other destructive behavior toward children in this country. The attention politicians have given the abortion issue might also extend to their responsibility to unwanted, neglected children with unmet educational, health care and child care needs. Another result of ignoring these needs are the millions of teenagers having babies at the most vulnerable time of their lives.
Excerpted from Confronting the Child Care Crisis by Stevanne Auerbach. Copyright © 2011 Stevanne Auerbach. Excerpted by permission of Openroad Integrated Media.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Chapter One WHO NEEDS CHILD CARE?,
Chapter Two DON'T FORGET THE PARENTS,
Chapter Three FEDERAL FOUL-UP,
Chapter Four THE STATE OF THE STATES,
Chapter Five MAKING IT WORK ON THE LOCAL LEVEL,
Chapter Six ONE COMMUNITY'S TRIALS AND TRAVAILS,
Chapter Seven CHILD CARE ALTERNATIVES,
Chapter Eight WHAT'S NEXT?,