October 2, 1997 in Nation/World

First Lady Works On Child Care Says Working Parents Are More Productive Without Worries

Sandra Sobieraj Associated Press
 

Hillary Rodham Clinton is beginning to outline a child-care initiative that could offer liability protection for caretakers and ask private business to subsidize jobs for low-income parents.

“This is not just an altruistic, good-feeling sort of an issue. It’s a real bottom-line one,” Clinton said Wednesday. Lacking child-care worries, she argued, working parents are more productive and efficient.

The first lady staked out some potentially controversial positions in discussions here and with business leaders in Miami to preview an Oct. 23 White House conference on child care.

While Clinton has definite ideas about a framework for reform, spokeswoman Marsha Berry said it remains unclear whether President Clinton’s administration will propose a package of legislative and executive actions on child care.

Hillary Clinton stressed that, in contrast to her ambitious and vain attempt in 1994 to overhaul health care, improving child care was likely to be an incremental feat accomplished through government-business partnerships. Her health care panel’s splashy town hall forums have been replaced for this effort by toned-down classroom tours and round-table talks with experts.

Would-be child-care reformers, she said, shouldn’t “get spooked off by the nay-saying voices who tell them it’s going to be impossible. … We can be creative.”

For the second time, Clinton raised the possibility of creating a national registry of criminal child-care workers that would include “any allegations of abuse or neglect.”

And she favored protection from lawsuits for child-care centers, if a way can be found to separate everyday accidents from “grossly negligent, reckless, intentional mistreatment.”

“You cannot expect businesses or private homes to offer child care unless they have some assurance that they can be protected from the unforeseen and accidental kinds of mishaps that happen in anybody’s household,” the first lady said.

At the Quantico Marine base, Clinton lauded the military for offering “a good example” of high-quality, affordable care.

The Defense Department, which provides child care at nearly all hours to some 200,000 children daily, operates the largest employer-sponsored program in the nation. With fees set on an income-based sliding scale, the average family pays $65 per week per child and the government picks up the rest.

“This, for us, is a readiness program. To be completely ready you have to take care of families,” Deputy Defense Secretary John Hamre said.

The two days in Florida and Virginia provided glimpses of this first lady’s many, sometimes conflicting, roles.

A traditional classroom visit, where she nodded approvingly as two dozen rowdy 4-year-olds sang “I am a VIP in my family,” was followed by a substantive round table where Clinton freely floated ideas on reforming federal, state and private-sector child-care policies.

On child care, the first lady suggested:

More small businesses to pool resources and form creative partnerships in order to subsidize costs for low-wage workers.

A comprehensive public-education campaign to teach parents how to identify quality child care. “A lot of times they don’t know what is quality,” she said. “If somebody’s nice to them, it doesn’t matter that they don’t know the difference between caring for a 1-year-old or a 4-year-old.”

Help from the media to publish public-service announcements “helping to train parents to be better parents.”


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