Fightback: Who Cares for Children?

by Sylvia Weinstein

Articles have begun appearing in the press recently about the children of former welfare mothers who are getting sub-standard child care.

Tom Zoellner of the San Francisco Chronicle writes, “Mediocre child care is harming the basic development of about 1 million American toddlers whose mothers have left welfare rolls to go back to work, according to a study released yesterday.”

The study, by Dr. Bruce Fuller of the University of California Berkeley and Dr. Sharon Lynn Kagan of Yale University, involved nearly 1000 single mothers moving from welfare to work.

They found that many of their children had been placed in child care where they spent hours watching television or wandering aimlessly and had little interaction with their attendants.

They interviewed mothers and visited these child-care settings in California, Connecticut, and Florida. The children were one to three-and-a-half years old.

“Welfare reform promised two things,” Dr. Fuller said, “to move people from welfare to work, where it succeeded in spades, and to improve kids’ environment over time.

It’s too early to say that kids are worse off in mediocre child care than they were at home with their mothers on welfare, but this study did find early warning signals of a child-care problem that’s going to get worse as the work requirements of the welfare law’s ramp up from 30 percent to 50 percent of the women getting assistance from welfare.”

“We know that high-quality child care can help children, and that poor children can benefit the most,” Dr. Kagan said, “so we hope this will be a wake-up call to do something about the quality of child care in this country. The quality of day-care centers is not great for middle-class families, but it’s surprising and distressing to see the extent to which welfare families’ quality was even lower, with some exceptions like the day-care centers we saw in California.”

It is not surprising to me to find that children of the poor are in “bad” child care. Most of it is in private homes where there is no oversight and overcrowding and very little separation between the ages. It is not that the politicians don’t know what children need in the way of quality child care. But they also know that it means spending money that they need to make war with.

The studies on child care needs would circle the globe at least twice and reach from here to the moon if laid end to end. For example, the American Federation of Teachers has published a massive study on the subject.

First, the buildings for child-care centers should be safe, including fire-proof buildings and all the necessary exits. It should include separate rooms for eating, sleeping, and playing as well as an outdoor safe play area. It should include a qualified teacher with an Early Childhood Credential. And then the number of adults-per-child ratio should be high enough so that every child gets the necessary attention he or she needs.

A health-care worker should be in attendance, and any health care should be supplied by the center. Parent-teacher conferences should be held often and at a time when the parents can attend.

The center should be a place where children feel safe and cared for. It should have the kind of toys and books that inspire children to play and be creative.

It should have volunteer programs that include junior high, high-school and college students, both male and female.

The center could supply these youths with the understanding that would make them better parents, and the children would become more relaxed around older people who care for them.

Why can’t this be done? Because the bosses in this country, the richest in the world, can’t make a profit on these measures. Making a profit is the bottom line for the social class that rules this country.

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