Academic journal article Forum for Applied Research and Public Policy

Small Children, Sizeable Needs

Academic journal article Forum for Applied Research and Public Policy

Small Children, Sizeable Needs

Article excerpt

If children represent our future, why have governments and employers done so little to provide for their care?

The United Nations has heralded the new millennium as a time that will bring about the eradication of many childhood diseases and social conditions that have caused continued suffering, but lasting solutions are still far off. However, a number of creative initiatives by various countries may signal the advent of a new era of greater protection and security for the children of working parents around the world.

For decades, most developed nations have recognized the need for programs that support working families and help protect their children. Now, rapidly developing countries are also embarking upon ambitious efforts to offer work related child care and other programs supportive of families.

Early Models

Policy development in the area of child care has taken some surprising turns over the past 60 years. One of the earliest excursions into the development of child care policy in the workplace took place in Brazil in the 1920s. The socialist oriented government of that period enacted a law requiring factories in urban areas to provide child care for employees. As a consequence, child care facilities were developed near factories in Rio de Janeiro and other large urban areas. The law remained on the books despite the suspension of the Brazilian constitution in 1933, but was rarely enforced.

When factories upgraded their facilities or changed locations, little attempt was made to move the daycare centers with them. Nevertheless, some child care centers established under the laws of the 1920s maintained their programs well into the 1970s. Patricia Burness, the former chief of staff to the California State Superintendent of Public Instruction, conducted research in the 1970s on efforts of the Brazilian government to provide child care. In some old, dingy, industrial areas, Burness found a few child care centers that traced their roots to the policies enacted in the 1920s. There have been no attempts by subsequent Brazilian governments to provide work-related child care.

In Ecuador in the 1980s, President Leon Febres-Cordero supported enactment of child care laws, though the laws were, in fact, fostered by his wife, Eugenia Febres-Cordero. As in many South and Central American countries, the spouse of the president in Ecuador automatically oversees government programs that benefit children. In keeping with that tradition, Eugenia Febris-Cordero served as president of Ecuador's National Family and Children's Institute (INNFA). During her tenure, Febres-Cordero helped introduce a law through the Ecuadorian congress that required all employers with 50 or more employees to arrange for or provide child care for their workers. The law was enacted as an attempt to provide more job opportunities for low-income parents in the country.

Ironically, the law initially had the opposite result, especially for women. The largely male dominated leadership in the 574 corporations with more than 50 employees interpreted the law to read "50 or more women employees." Fearing that they would have to comply with the law, employers stopped hiring women when they had employed 49. Thus, a law that had been intended to stimulate employment of low-income women actually hampered their chances of finding a job. The employers also read the law to mean full-time employees and hired predominately part-time workers.

The International Child Resource Institute, a nonprofit organization established in 1981 devoted to the development of improvement of children's programs worldwide, worked with INNFA to clarify the law. To that end, the Institute identified two sections within the Ecuadorian tax codes that substantially benefit employers who arrange for human services--including child care--for their employees. Beginning in 1985, compliance with the law increased. The Ecuadorian government also developed a series of work-related child care centers to demonstrate its own compliance with the law. …

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