Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee


Hearing on S.2178, "The Childrens Development Commission Act"


Ms. Faith Wohl
President
Child Care Action Campaign

11:00 a.m., Tuesday, October 5, 1998


My name is Faith Wohl, and I am president of Child Care Action Campaign, a national nonprofit advocacy organization based in New York City. Child Care Action Campaign works to strengthen families, improve education and advance the well being of children with good quality, safe, affordable child care.

I am pleased to speak today on behalf of S. 2178, The Children's Development Commission Act, which we believe would help improve the quality of child care in the United States. Good quality child care and early education are strongly linked to school achievement and the development of social skills that enable a child to grow into a happy, productive adult. Such child care has been used successfully to prepare at-risk children for successful school performance. Good quality child care also improves educational and social development for children from middle- and low-income families. (Berrueta-Clement, Schweinhart, Barnett, Epstein & Weikart, 1984; Burchinal, Lee, & Ramey, 1989; Campbell & Ramey, 1994; Carnegie Corporation of New York, 1994; Doherty, 1991; Hayes, Palmer, & Weikart, 1980; Lazar, Darlington, Murray, Royce, & Snipper, 1982; Schweinhart & Weikart, 1980).

Poor quality child care and early education can harm children. Their intellectual and social development can be stunted. In extreme cases, children have been harmed physically; some have even died. Saddest of all, care that is poor or mediocre in quality is far more common than good quality care. The landmark Cost, Quality and Child Outcomes study found that 80% of child care in centers is poor to mediocre (Helburn, Culkiun, Howes, Bryant, Clifford, Cryer, Peisner-Feinberg, Kagan, et. al., Cost, Quality and Child Outcomes in Child Care Centers, 1995). The Carnegie Corporation's Starting Points Task Force, citing new scientific research on brain development in the first three years of life, found that "an adverse environment can compromise a young child's brain function and overall development, placing him or her at greater risk of developing a variety of cognitive, behavioral, and physical difficulties. In some cases these effects may be irreversible. But the opportunities are equally dramatic: a good start in life can do more to promote learning and prevent damage than we ever imagined." (Carnegie Corporation, Starting Points, abridged, p.4, 1994).

The quality of child care and early education affects parents as well. When working parents are confident about their child care choices, they are more productive on the job. When care is inadequate, parental stress mounts and work performance suffers. Child Care Action Campaign has estimated that American businesses lose more than $3 billion annually in child care-related absences (Child Care Action Campaign, Child Care: The Bottom Line, 1988). Poor quality child care arrangements are more likely to fall apart, causing parents to miss work and even to lose their jobs (Galinsky, et.al., The Changing Workforce, 1993; Fernandez, Child Care and Corporate Productivity, 1986).

While we know what constitutes good quality child care and early education, how to provide it, and what its benefits are, we also know that it costs far too much for most parents to afford. While parents pay on average $4100 per year for child care per family, good quality child care costs about $8000 per year per child to provide (Casper, "What Does it Cost to Mind Our Preschoolers?" Census Bureau, 1995; Willer, Reaching the full cost of quality, NAEYC, 1990). So while some parents struggle to find any kind of child care at all in their communities, those who do find good quality care most often discover they cannot afford it, and settle for care they can afford--often unlicenced and developmentally inappropriate care.

Overall, about $40 billion is spent annually on child care, most of it by parents, with the balance provided by governments at all levels in the form of subsidies, and less than one percent paid by the private sector (Mitchell, Stoney, & Dichter, Financing Child Care in the United States: An Illustrative Catalog of Current Strategies, 1997). Though parents find child care fees high, child care providers try to keep fees at a level that parents can afford, and earn salaries far below what their training should command. With salaries averaging less than $7 per hour, with few benefits, it is no wonder that staff turnover tops 30% a year among providers, with resulting damage to the attachments children form to caring adults. This huge staff turnover directly impairs the quality of care that children receive. (Whitebook, Howes, & Phillips, Worthy Work, Unlivable Wages: The National Child Care Staffing Study, 1988-1997).

One impact of chronically low wages is the inability of providers to secure the financing they need to start new child care facilities or improve or upgrade those they already have. The Children's Development Commission Act would offer insurance security to lenders who want to help providers build new facilities or upgrade existing ones to improve safety or meet higher standards, even including facilities in which to train child care providers.

The private sector doesn't want to take risks on child care providers; this bill would help stimulate the private sector into meeting the growing demand for child care. Since the supply of good quality care is one of the nation's most pressing needs, especially since the implementation of welfare reform, helping providers open or upgrade facilities would be a great help to parents nationwide. In addition, the Act's inclusion of books, curricular and program materials in its definition of "equipment," is welcome news, since one of the hallmarks of poor quality care is a lack of toys and other stimulating materials that encourage development in child care rooms.

Child Care Action Campaign has long championed innovative child care financing programs and public-private partnerships in particular to improve the accessibility and quality of child care for all children. In concert with local advocates, we have undertaken programs in Indiana and Florida that successfully spurred such partnerships, with payoffs in direct improvements to child care. We have also observed the excellent efforts of facilities funds that now provide low-cost capital in Illinois, Massachusetts and Maryland.

While this bill would be a positive step for Congress to take to help improve child care and early education in this country, a few improvements would make it even better. If the legislation could contain incentives for state governments to follow the federal lead in establishing loan guarantees, that would increase the benefits. And funds to help the providers assisted by these guaranteed loans operate the centers they have built or improved would go a long way towards making child care more affordable and improve its quality,

The Children's Development Commission Act is not the large, comprehensive bill we need to improve child care and make it more affordable for America's working families. Ten million dollars in loan guarantees against an annual child care expenditure of $40 billion seems very small, especially when many child development and early education experts say we actually need to spend $80 to $200 billion per year to provide good quality child care to all American children.

American families need a bigger, more comprehensive approach to child care, They need a multi-faceted approach that would help dedicated, professional child care providers earn a living wage and stay in their beloved professions. They need a bill that would radically improve the quality of the early care and education our children desperately require if they are to compete in the demanding global workplace of tomorrow, one that would help all low-income children with the subsidies they need to enter good quality programs and one that would help working parents with the leaves and flexibility they now lack to spend time with their children and help them succeed.

But this bill is a step, and an important signal to American's working families that the Congress of the United States is aware of their need for good quality child care. A recent poll sponsored by CCAC and the Children's Defense Fund demonstrated huge support by voters, and especially families with young children, for federal action on child care. So we cannot fail to take a step forward when the possibility is presented, even if it is a small step. Child Care Action Campaign hopes you will be able to make the necessary improvements in this bill, and move it forward. As Representative Maloney has said of her bill, "It's going to do a lot with a little." We urge the Senate to do a lot for America's youngest children. Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today.


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