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Child Care: Facing the Hard Choices.

Child Care: Facing the Hard Choices. By Alfred J. Kahn and Sheila B. Kamerman. Dover, MA, Auburn House Publishing Co., 1988, 273 pp. $26.

According to the authors of this timely and insightful book, both of whom are professors of social policy and planning at Columbia University's School of Social Work, "the Federal Government has largely and deliberately abdicated its leadership role" regarding child care, and "a Federal presence' has disappeared." This was not an unreasonable conclusion to reach after their examination of Federal policies and programs until 1987. Few readers will dispute their well-documented charges that "Federal Government retreats and dismantling in this field [had] left serious shortages and leadership gaps."

But what a remarkable difference a few short years have made, with nearly 60 child-care bills now before the Congress! While most of these proposals originated in the Congress itself, from both sides of the aisle, one of the bills now being singled out for attention was sent up to the Hill by the Chief Executive, consistent with his pledge to address the child-care conundrum during his campaign for office. What will finally emerge from this spate of legislative proposals is by no means clear, with compromises between party leaders in the Congress and the White House still to be worked out. But the Federal Government obviously intends to resume a leadership role, whether at its own initiative or as a necessary political response to the pressures for action that have rapidly mounted throughout the country.

Kahn and Kamerman, who have long been at the fore of the family advocacy movement, did not write this book as a self-help guide for perplexed parents. Rather, they address it to "those public officials, interested citizens, advocates, and academics who frame the policy debate and engage the choices." And, despite being outpaced in some respects by the changing tide, this is a book whose data and whose arguments have lost very little currency.

Indeed, to understand what is now taking place in our institutions of government and what fuels the still ongoing debate about child-care policy, the kind of detailed history of the 1981-86 period the authors present should be required reading. The policy hallmarks of this short but influential political era are described in the authors' words as "decentralization, privatization, and deregulation." To some, perhaps a large, extent, these principles are still apropos today, although they might be considered less the established goals of government than three key considerations that continue to frame and guide the child-care debate.

Seemingly giving up on the Federal Government as the force for change, Kahn and Kamerinan look mainly to States and local communities for leadership in developing new child-care policies and program initiatives. A number of these, unquestionably among the more promising ones, are described in some detail-perhaps more detail than a casual reader will care to digest. Three principal chapters, however, are also devoted to the roles of schools, employers, and family day-care providers, the last of which are both the major suppliers of care for preschool children and the cause of considerable concern regarding the quality of that care and the safety and health of their charges.

As in virtually every treatise on child care, there are some equivocal statements and interpretations. For example, the authors argue that employers are impelled to provide child-care assistance not as an aid in recruiting and retaining female workers but as a response to felt "pressures from government, from the media, and from child-care advocates to do something more to respond to the child-care needs of their employees. " Such pressures obviously are being experienced as a call for action. However, to dismiss impending if not already existing labor force shortages as a major stimulus is to ignore the realities of population and labor force demographics and to give short shrift to the acumen of employers in recognizing and devising ways of dealing with them.

But whatever more employers might do, this reviewer agrees with the authors that the shortages of affordable and quality child care, which impose a particularly onerous burden on poor and low-income families, are not going to be corrected by any simple reliance on market forces. It is not unreasonable to expect that, in time, "child care should evolve and become as much a part of the social infrastructure as schools, libraries, parks, highways, and transportation." But for the present at least, it remains to be seen how this Nation might best fashion child-care arrangements that artfully combine the efforts and resources of the public and private sectors in ways that meet the needs of working parents while protecting and promoting the interests of its next generation of citizens.

-Richard P. Shore Bureau of Labor-management Relations U.S. Department of Labor
COPYRIGHT 1990 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Shore, Richard P.
Publication:Monthly Labor Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 1, 1990
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