Child Care Initiatives in the States

Article excerpt

An APWA survey examines child care innovations as the states prepare for federal welfare reform.

APWA recently conducted an informal survey of state child care efforts. Not waiting on Congress to act, states have already launched their own innovations. Although not conclusive, the survey results are nonetheless interesting. PUBLIC WELFARE presents them in this report.

Reforming the welfare system to put more recipients into the workforce depends largely on the availability of child care. That opinion was echoed repeatedly in a recent survey of state human service agencies conducted by the American Public Welfare Association.

Thirty-three states and the District of Columbia responded to the survey, and every region of the country was well represented. Their common concerns were

* not enough infant care;

* too few providers of part-time and evening care for parents who work unconventional hours or second shifts;

* long waiting lists for limited child care slots;

* inadequate training and pay for caretakers;

and

* too often, low-quality care by generally unskilled providers.

The survey was conducted as part of a grant from the Foundation for Child Development, which has funded APWA to examine interesting and promising developments in child care, particularly as child care is crucial to moving recipients of Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) into the workforce. As several members of Congress have already said, no reform of the welfare system should put young children in jeopardy of being left home alone.

As part of the project, APWA also wanted to find out how state human service agencies are planning for a whole new set of child care needs, assuming that much of the current AFDC population will be engaged in some kind of work within five years if Congress's version of welfare reform is signed into law.

The surveys went to the public information officials in state human service departments, some of whom chose to forward the surveys to state child care specialists. APWA interviewed a select number of respondents more extensively by phone.

Many of the surveys highlighted innovations that are already improving the child care picture in several states. For example, Oregon's Department of Human Resources has received two planning grants from the state legislature to gauge quality, involve consumers, and standardize regulations throughout the state's child care industry. Legislation was also introduced in the past session of the state assembly to address provider compensation and professional development. Marcia Martin, executive officer for the state's Commission for Child Care, reports that Oregon is meeting established benchmarks for availability of child care.

The Bureau of Child and Family Services of the Maine Department of Human Services is now working with the state Office of Substance Abuse to ensure that women dealing with substance abuse can receive crisis child care support. In the past, the state's slot and voucher system could not always deal with crisis situations; but now, in cooperation with the State Office of Substance Abuse, special vouchers are available to these families in need.

Several innovations in New York are improving the child care scene there. The state has set up an Early Childhood Investment Fund as a centralized source for state and foundation money for local projects. The fund provides state matching funds to a consortium of local businesses, foundations, and program providers to enhance the supply and quality of early childhood services in their communities. In addition, the state is developing standards for child care programs that wish to serve mildly to moderately ill children.

Nearly every state responding to the survey has approached the limited resources for child care creatively. Maryland, for example, targets the needs of homeless and disabled children, in both early childhood programs and school-age settings, with funds from the Child Care and Development Block Grant. …