Act on Family Issues

WHEN Rep. Pat Schroeder sought to increase grass-roots support for family issues a few years ago, she took to the road with what she called the Great American Family Tour. As she and her cosponsors, pediatrician T. Berry Brazelton and TV producer Gary David Goldberg, explained in a letter at the time, their goal was to ``activate parents so they can influence the development of family policy and make family issues a national priority ....'' Those efforts, among others, helped to put child care and parental leave high on the political agenda in the 1988 presidential campaign. The day-care center became every candidate's favorite photo opportunity.

So far, that family-friendly campaign rhetoric has not translated into family-friendly laws. Last month Congress failed to override a presidential veto of the Family and Medical Leave Act. And a House-Senate conference committee is still debating a major child-care bill.

At the same time, Representative Schroeder's attempt to ``activate parents'' and mobilize grass-roots support for family issues remains largely a dream. One reason stems from a lack of time. If there's anything a busy working parent doesn't need, it's another cause, another commitment.

In addition, no umbrella group exists to lobby support for families. Older constituents can express concerns and flex their political muscles through the American Association of Retired Persons. Children and families have no similar public voice.

Advocates for the family see one hopeful sign on the horizon: a fledgling organization called Parent Action. The Washington-based group expects to be operational by January, serving as a national link in the chain of political activism for families.

In the past year, polls show that two-thirds of Americans favor job-protected leave for employees with care-giving responsibilities at home. Yet talking to pollsters won't bring change. Talking to politicians might. Parents must make themselves heard - beginning with postcards, letters, and calls to elected officials.

Labor Day 1990 serves as a reminder that family-related labor issues are still far from being solved. To be sure, many employers have started to offer a pregnant worker benefits beyond a baby shower and good wishes. But more managers and lawmakers must recognize the dual roles of working parents - before today's generation of babies grows up and becomes the next generation of parents needing parental leave and child care.

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