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
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