Second look at child care

A recent congressional report on child care in the United States deserves a second look. When the new Congress convenes early next year it ought to consider seriously some of the recommendations of the House Select Committee on Children, Youth, and Families.

Issued in the waning days of this Congress, the report makes a number of common-sense points about actions that could be taken to aid families and children who need care, during school hours or before and after school.

One important point is that mothers or fathers who stay home to care for their own preschool children should receive the same federal income tax break now provided parents who work outside the home and pay someone else for child care. It is not a large benefit: a maximum of $1,000, depending on circumstances. But parents who choose to be at home to care for their children are not now eligible for it.

The panel also recommends tax incentives to corporations to help their employees in one way or another to obtain day care. Many professionals in the day-care field believe widespread corporate aid is bound to come on grounds it is in the interest not only of the employees but also of the employers. A trend in employer-aided day care is for firms to reimburse employees for part or all of the cost of enrolling their children in the day-care facility of the employee's choice. Many firms are wary of the responsibility that they would have were they to run their own day-care facility.

Another point worth considering. For working parents with school-age children , supervised care might be provided at their children's schools, both before and after the school day. With enrollments generally lower than several years ago many schools have unused space. Needed now to produce effective latchkey programs are commitment and staff. The committee recommends that Congress consider providing grants to help both public and private agencies set up such programs in the schools.

The committee report was unusual in that in an election year it won broad acceptance - every committee member, of both parties, signed it, though not every one agreed with each point. Several committee members indicated that the proper child-care question is not whether women with young children should work outside the home, but - because so many now must work - how to help them obtain better care. Roughly half of all women with children under school age now are in the workplace, including an estimated 45 percent of mothers with children under three years of age.

Nothing the committee recommends should be rushed into. But its recommendations deserve careful consideration both by Congress and the nation.

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