- Report Published -
|Report of the Joint Subcommittee Studying Child Care Centers in the Commonwealth|
|Joint Subcommittee Studying Child Care Centers in the Commonwealth|
|HJR 155 (Regular Session, 1984)|
|The Joint Subcommittee Studying Child Care Centers created in 1984 by House Joint Resolution No. 155 by the General Assembly was assigned the responsibility of looking at various aspects of child care in hopes of developing new ideas to cope with a problem that is increasing every year, that of providing quality care for children during the day. Today a broad-based constituency has emerged with concerned parents at the core in addition to professionals. Congress is presently looking at the day care issue and several bills have been introduced. House Resolution 4193 authorizes $30 million in grants for each fiscal year between 1985 and 1987 to public agencies and private nonprofit organizations to start up day care services for school age children from homes where both parents work. Senate Bill 1521 contains similar provisions but provides only $15 million between 1984 and 1986.|
One problem that needs to be overcome is the misapprehension that not many children need day care services and that there are adequate resources available for those who do. In reality, most American mothers (or fathers) are not at home with their children. Mothers work today for the same financial and nonfinancial reasons as fathers work, and the most dramatic increase in female labor force participation over the last decade has been among women with children, in particular those with very young children. The percentage of mothers of children under 18 who are in the labor force has increased from 40 percent in 1970 to 60 percent in 1983. Fifty-three percent of children in two-parent families have working mothers.
While the general thought is that day care is something for poor families, the biggest users of preschool programs are the nation's elite, even when the mothers are not working, because they recognize the benefits of a good group experience for their children. Although the number of young children in our nation was smaller in the 1970's, nursery school enrollment doubled and, in 1982, 53 percent of 3 to 4 year olds from families with incomes of $25,000 or more attended a preschool program.
Availability of such programs for infants and toddlers is still a great problem and this is recognized as being the greatest unmet demand for service by parents of children under 3 years. This is a result of the combination of more women working and a national maternity policy that defines maternity as a disability and protects income roughly six to eight weeks after childbirth. Most of these parents find it difficult to locate programs for children this young and when they do, they also find that these are prohibitively expensive. Care for a preschooler can cost $45 to $75 a week, $55 to $96 for a toddler, and $125 for an infant (a child aged approximately 2 or under) with prices varying according to region.
Instead, many families are forced to resort to day-care homes which are generally informal neighborhood arrangements which may or may not be licensed. Even with availability being as it is today, many parents still have to juggle several different programs in order to cover the entire day and many children, known as "latchkey kids," are forced to care for themselves in an empty home for the several hours between school and the time the parents arrive home.
Unfortunately, instead of having access to more information regarding child care centers, since 1981 when national legislation turned Title XX of the Social Security Act, which funded day-care centers, into the Social Service Block Grant, no more national information has been collected on how much of the money is used for child care and its various aspects. But it is known that licensed child care centers did increase during the 1970's and the number of programs that either started subsidizing child care or were newly established child care, grew by more than 25 percent. Churches, some of which receive some public funding, also report an increase in programs under their auspices. A new component of child care seen on the rise is the large regional or national commercial chains which now serve about ten percent of all children in child care.
Family day-care homes, as mentioned earlier, provide child care to a great number of children, but only an estimated 10 percent are licensed or registered. The USDA Child Care Food Program has brought many of these facilities out from "underground" by funding food for low-income children in both day-care centers and family day-care homes. Also, to increase supply and accessibility of such care, state and local jurisdictions are shifting from licensing provisions to only registration which provides for self-listing and self-assessment by the provider. The impact of this trend on the quality of day-care has not been assessed.
Finally, another alternative is the role of business. A 1982 national survey identified only 415 employers who were supporting child-care activities and about half of them were hospitals. Participation included, among other things, on-site services, voucher programs, financial contributions to community services, flex-hours, family sick leave policies, cafeteria-style benefits package, or some form of information and referral service. At present, business is not seen to play a large role in child-care activities for many reasons, including legal and financial ones. There needs to be a more widespread dissemination of information to inform businesses of these possibilities and encourage their participation.
Experts point to the many social program changes that have occurred since President Reagan took office in 1981 and tend to feel that public funding is a crucial component to quality day care. Direct funding for child-care services for low-income families has fallen nationally while simultaneously the indirect funding of child care through tax credits to middle and upper income Americans has increased.
In the mid-1970's, the largest increase in direct public funding occurred. Almost one-fifth of the federal social services fund ($650 million) was spent by the states to provide licensed day care. State and local governments provided an additional $150 million. In 1981, the present administration's proposals to reduce overall social services expenditures by 21 percent were passed. The Child Care Food Program was cut by 30 percent. In contrast, child care tax credits, which are an indirect federal subsidy, have risen. Parents who earn enough to pay taxes can take a credit of up to $720 on expenses of $2,400 for one child and $1,440 on expenses of $4,800 for two or more. If the poverty level is $10,178 for a family of four, it is hardly expected that these families would spend that kind of money on day care. Critics argue that this credit is in itself not bad, but it adversely affects low-income families because they are not liable for taxes. There have been suggestions to provide for a refund rather than a tax credit in order to aid those who are in the most need of such financial consideration for child care expenses.
Various approaches to solve some of the inequities which have arisen are continually being developed and tested. One of these is the information and referral (I & R) service which is a network to "match" or "fit" parents and the variety of day-care providers. California is the only state to provide a public subsidy for such programs and have 55 in operation. There are 165 additional ones operating across the country.
Another alternative being explored by states and localities allows eligible parents to spend their social services child care allotment on the program of their choice through "vouchers" or "alternative payment." It is anticipated that money could be saved by cutting administrative costs. Ideally, the programs would be pre-screened, but it is not always the case.
Quality of day care has been passed to the state since federal standards were eliminated by Congress when it passed the Social Services Block Grant. The administration's view is that quality will improve as a result of competition, but it is not seen to be happening.
Most advocates and experts are of the view that our society has a great stake in the children that we raise and are responsible to a great extent for the adults they become. There are many problems in the child care area which need to be met head-on and solved. Many have been mentioned here. One great obstacle is the position of the Reagan administration which refers to child care as one of the new "women's initiatives." Child care, as many men will now tell you, is the responsibility of both mother and father, and terminology as well as attitudes are changing in order to provide the best care available to help raise our children to be the best they can be.
In order to better assess the needs in this area in the Commonwealth, the Joint Subcommittee held two open meetings in Richmond and one public hearing in Northern Virginia. Numerous speakers, including many professionals in this area, spoke to inform us of their concerns.