Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee

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

Ms. Mildred Kiefer Wurf
Director of Public Policy
Girls Incorporated

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

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee;

Good afternoon and thank you for the opportunity to share our views on child care in this country, as you consider S. 2178, "Children's Development, Commission Act". My name is Mildred Kiefer Wurf and I am appearing here today on behalf of Girls Incorporated and the National Collaboration for Youth.

Girls Incorporated is a national youth-serving organization dedicated to inspiring all girls to be strong, smart and bold. Founded in 1945, Girls Incorporated serves 350,000 school-age children most whom are girls 6-18 years of age, at over 1,000 program sites nationwide. Some know us under our former name, Girls Clubs of America. I serve as the Director of Public Policy and am located in Washington, D.C. Our national headquarters is in New York, our National Resource Center is in Indianapolis, and our affiliates are located throughout the country.

The National Collaboration for Youth includes 27 of the nation's leading youth development organizations, including Girls Incorporated, the YMCA of the USA, Campfire Boys and Girls, the YWCA, Boys and Girls Clubs, Big Brothers and Big Sisters, 4-11, Boys Scouts and Girls Scouts, and the American Red Cross. The members of the National Collaboration for Youth comprise the nation's largest providers of programming for young people in the out-of-school hours. Collectively, the organizations serve 40 million young people each year, with 6 million volunteers and 100,000 full time staff members. I chair the Washington Support Group of the Collaboration, that is, the public policy directors of the agencies.

Often, when the subject is about child care, we picture providing supervision and safety for infants and toddlers who could not manage on their own. Today, I want to focus on the needs of the those who are a little older, those between the ages of 5 and 14, who need care and supervision and who are old enough to look for trouble when left alone.

The after-school hours can be some of the most dangerous times for school-age children in this country and millions of children are on their own during much of that time.

Consider these facts, in the United States:

Many adults remember their out-of-school hours as time to play with friends, explore the neighborhood, or ride bikes. Then, as young people, they entertained themselves, secure in the knowledge that a neighbor or relative was nearby. They remember feeling safe. Today, school-age children say they do not feel safe in their neighborhoods or even in their homes. Gangs, street violence, easy access to drugs, and other dangers threaten their health and safety.

The after-school hours are also "prime time for unsupervised children to experiment with drugs, alcohol, sexual activity, vandalism, or truancy. The FBI reports that juvenile crime peaks during the hours of 3:00p.m. and 8:00p.m.

Researchers have found that school-age children who are engaged in organized programs during these non-school hours are less likely to drop out of school, smoke cigarettes, use other drugs, and become a teen-age parent. Common sense tells us that these children are also safer when trained and caring adults are close by and responsible for children's safety.

The empty hours they have each day also represent a wasted opportunity, so well described in the Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development's report A Matter of Time.

Like the Carnegie Council, the National Collaboration for Youth and Girls Incorporated recognize the rich opportunity that out-of-school hours provide for school-age children to participate in constructive supervised activities. These activities can introduce youth to new interests, support emotional growth, improve their academic performance, build and maintain healthy bodies, and develop healthy relationships with their peers and caring adults. Children can build their capacity for responsible and successful adulthood. The out-of-school hours can give children, especially those who may not excel in the formal classroom, another opportunity to grow. However, the major message of A Matter of Time is that there are not enough opportunities available for all children. Millions of school-age children are on their own when not in school. Someone described this as "Zoo children in the room, with a million peering through the window."

The lack of affordable, organized, school-age programs during the non-school hours presents a problem that cuts across economic, racial, and regional lines. Basic childcare, can cost $4,000 to $10,000 a year. Many parents face great difficulty finding childcare options they can afford and feel good about leaving their children in. But the supply of center-based child care does not increase to meet the demand because the revenues earned by providers are too little and the capital investment needed is often too great. S. 2173 begins to address this aspect of the problem.

"The need and demand for high-quality after-school programs is tremendous," said US Secretary of Education, Richard Riley. "From every state in the nation, from large cities to small rural areas, parents, teachers and children say they need before and after school programs to help keep young people in safe places, out of trouble and engaged in positive learning experiences."

The results of a new national poll sponsored by the Mott Foundation were released just two weeks ago. The poll found strong support for after school programs across party lines and among parents and nonparents alike. Ninety-three percent of all respondents said they favor making safe, daily enrichment programs available to all children. The crucial finding was that Americans overwhelmingly endorse the expansion of after school programs, including 80 percent who said they would be willing to raise their taxes to offer programs to children.

National efforts to increase the supply of school-age care should emphasize the expansion of the existing out-of-school programs that have been shown effective.

As detailed in A Matter of Time, a rich variety of existing youth development programs that increase academic readiness, decrease delinquent behavior, and increase individual responsibility. The same findings reported in studies by The Eisenhower Foundation, Public Private Ventures, The Kaufman Foundation and many others. Again the difficulty is that such programs are not available to all young people who need and want them. While S. 2178 does not directly address this larger question of the need for a vast increase of availability, it does offer targeted help that can be seen as an opening legislative wedge to a solving the problem of an inadequate supply of services- the nose of the camel in the tent, if you will.

The public school system should be fully utilized, but simply having schools stay open past 3:00 p.m. on school days is not a quick fix. Children need programs in the non-school hours that offer a safe, inclusive, predictable, and informal environment. That environment should respect and encourage the power of play and interpersonal relationships. Programs must be available on days the school is closed, including summers, winter vacations, parent-teacher days and other times when school is not in session.

School buildings offer substantial potential for providing this environment but these facilities also present many challenges. For example, the typical school insurance policy may not cover programs and activities during the non-school hours, which means requiring an additional insurance policy. At a time when many schools face cutting academic classes due to budgetary concerns, schools may be reluctant to open their doors for extended hours. Doing so means paying the custodian time-and-a-half to care for the building or hiring additional security for the safety of participants and school grounds; it means additional heating and lighting. Some school buildings are not air-conditioned because they have never been open during the summer months.

Private, community-based organizations must play an integral role in planning for and providing services and supervised, out-of school programming to school-age children. They should be recognized, supported, and tapped as a resource as the nation struggles with child care issues.

Trained caregivers or program coordinators offer age-appropriate and enriching activities that acknowledge a child's unique personality and interests. Youth development agencies offer experience and expertise in training youth workers, in providing quality programs, and in working with school-age children. Agencies typically have established relationships with community leadership and funding agencies through their volunteers, board members, and funding base. In addition any community based organizations have facilities appropriate for out-of-school care, which can offer the feature of choice to families seeking services. Private, community based organizations are valuable community resources and must be included in the community-wide planning and delivery of services to school-age children.

Here are a few real-life examples of services provided by non-profit youth agencies:

Girls Incorporated of Shelbyville (Indiana) offers a full-time summer program and weekday after school programs for girls until 8:30 p.m. Each day one hundred and thirty girls ride the school bus to Girls Inc. to participate in supervised activities that help them develop new skills and interests. During school holidays, summer vacation, and parent-teacher conference days, Girls Inc. opens its doors at 7:00 a.m. Working parents in Shelbyville count on Girls Inc. to help fill in the gaps between the nonschool hours and their work schedules.

Funds from the Child Care Development Block Grant (CCDBG) support these Girls Incorporated programs. Executive Director Barbara Anderson worries about their ability to continue offering child care services. Local councils control the distribution of CCDBG funds. Without a specific set-aside for school-age care and for community-based organizations, many councils designate the money predominantly for early childhood care or in-home babysitters. She sees Indiana moving in that direction, threatening a major source of funding for their school-age programs that offer services needed in the community.

Parents of school-age children in Birmingham, Alabama send their children to public, private or parochial schools-and each school has a different academic calendar. Girls Incorporated of Central Alabama partners with parents to keep their school-age youth out of unsafe neighborhoods and away from the dangers of unstructured unsupervised time by offering quality, fun programs.

When a few schools in Birmingham adopted a "continuous calendar" working parents became worried - how will they ensure their school-age children are safe, supervised, and happy during the new two-week breaks in October, December, and April? Girls Inc. responded quickly by opening their doors for expanded hours during these breaks and offering age-appropriate, fun, and enriching activities for the children. However, opening the center for extra hours means extra costs. Girls Inc. of Central Alabama consistently has a waiting list roughly equivalent to 10 percent of their enrollment. During the summer months, they must turn away parents and girls in droves due to space and staff limitations. Executive Director Ellen Rae Smith Grady notes that many local funders are eager to fund programs and activities, but not "keeping the lights on" and other operational costs.

Based in Syracuse, NY the Camp Fire Boys and Girls Council serves low income children in the city itself and surrounding rural areas. As part of a diversified youth development program, they provide all day child care at their Camp Fire Camp during the school breaks in February and April as well as all summer. Called Child Care at Camp, this program provides rare opportunities for these youngsters to learn about nature and experience the fund of canoeing, swimming, hiking and other outdoor activities. It is collaborative in nature, for example the Council secures bus transportation for rural children to go to "Child Care at Camp" from the Onondaga County Opportunities program, which functions with state and federal money. The program cannot serve all children who apply but in order to expand, the camp site needs additional restroom facilities. The Director would welcome the kind of low-income loan that which would be provided through Kiddie Mac.

Responding to community requests, the YWCA of Kansas City began offering programs at three schools during the non-school hours.

The YWCA offers structured and fun activities until 7:00 p.m. every evening. The children who attend come from low-income homes. If the YWCA charged more for their services or stopped offering their programs, these children would be home alone or out on the streets.

They moved their programs to schools to circumvent transportation obstacles that prevented some youth from participating in their programs. The move, however, brought many challenges. The YWCA and the schools must constantly find the funds to pay for the additional maintenance, janitorial, and security costs associated with keeping the school open extended hours. Government and foundations fund their programs and volunteers serve as staff, but the YWCA must look to the school to cover some of the additional facility costs.

The Virtual YMCA is a cooperative venture among the YMCA of Greater New York, the New York City Board of Education, and the United Way. This unique program, now in 67 elementary schools throughout the city's five boroughs, operates five days a week from 3 to 6 p.m. throughout the school year. The long-term plan is to bring the program to 200 of the most under-served schools.

Each program site follows a standard curriculum, developed by the staff of the YMCA, that focuses on improving the literacy skills of second, third, and fourth grade students. In addition, the curriculum includes recreational activities as well as activities related to values.

Funding for salaries and supplies for each site comes through sponsorships provided by businesses and individuals in New York City. The administrative portion of the program is funded by foundations and government. The New York City Board of Education covers the cost of operating fees for each site as well as the cost of building security.

These are a few examples that show how community-based organizations are essential resources for school-age children, their parents, and the community and how they often depend on government funds for part of the costs of operating child care services. Further, in every case, more children could be served if more funds were available. In many cases, the money proposed by Kiddie Mac would greatly assist an expansion of service.

I think you can begin to see some of the issues communities face in providing school-age child care. The setting for out-of-school programs could be a school, a community center, or the facility of a community-based organization. Regardless of where it is, working parents need to know that their child is safe, well supervised and engaged in stimulating activities that they can afford.

The federal government should play a significant role in addressing the problem of child care by helping to insure that school-age children have accessible, affordable, high quality care during the nonschool hours.

Child care legislation should:

Finally, there is a great need for "glue" money to establish community-wide systems. linking new and existing programs together to provide choice and support for families, rather than continuing to operate programs in isolation with parents left on their own to sort out the loose strands.

S. 2178, the Children's Development Commission Act, is one piece of legislation that can contribute to finding new ways to meet the enormous need for child care. Establishing a commission to serve as a catalyst for private-sector construction and development lending can improve the number and quality of child care facilities nationwide. It is essential that these funds be available to community-based organizations as well as public agencies and that funds be available in an amount that meets the need, a far greater sum than is proposed. We believe that S. 2178 is a valuable idea to get the ball rolling.

We would be pleased to work with you as you develop legislation to expand child care by addressing the financial issues inherent in this expansion, such as incentives, subsidies and direct loans for renovation, construction and certification fees. Such financial assistance can overcome many of the obstacles to providing sufficient child care to meet the needs of our country's families, a need recognized by 90% of America's population. We are encouraged by the innovative first step represented in S. 2178.

American parents need expanded opportunities for school-age care during the out-of-school hours. Community-based organizations stand ready to offer their expertise, training, programs, and resources to provide opportunities for young people during the out-of-school hours.

Home | Menu | Links | Info | Chairman's Page