COLLEGE PARK – Calling the military child care system a bright spot, First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton said Friday it is the answer to improving the quality of child care in America.
“There are certainly differences between the military and the civilian sector,” Clinton told the 1,300 parents, students and faculty in Tawes Theater at the University of Maryland. “But I believe the military experience can serve as a beacon to the American work place in general.
“When parents don’t have to come to work concerned about how their children are doing, they can make a much more positive contribution which benefits all of us,” she added.
She cited Quantico Marine Base in Virginia as a model of excellent child care, because of its high standards, unannounced inspections of facilities, a toll-free number for parents to call with concerns and good wages for trained staff.
Clinton’s 45-minute speech emphasized the lack of affordable child care, the overall poor quality of care and the need for school-age care in America.
According to a 1995 census, families earning under $1,200 a month or $14,400 a year, put an average of 25 percent of their income towards child care. By comparison, middle-income families earning up to $36,000 a year devote up to 12 percent of their income to child care.
“Quality child care is financially out of reach for the hard-working American families whose children deserve the best attention they can receive,” Clinton said.
But even if a family can afford child care, there is never a guarantee that it will be adequate, Clinton said. One study of child care centers found that 70 percent of children are in care that is barely adequate and 10 percent in care that is dangerous to their health and safety, she said.
With almost 30 million children having one or both parents in the work force, Clinton said there is not enough quality child care for all who need it. But until recently, she said, the issue has not been taken seriously.
“It was like many issues affecting children in the past, viewed as a soft issue that was a disproportionate concern to women,” Clinton said. “Yet now we know it is one of the hardest issues we face and is an issue that has economic and social implications that go far beyond the individual concern that each of us brings to it.”
Clinton noted that steps have already been taken toward improvement. Since 1993, federal funding for child care was expanded by 68 percent, and subsidies have reached one million children.
The new balanced budget agreement allowed for a $500 child tax credit that will help 27 million families with 45 million children under the age of 17. For a typical American family with two children, the tax credit means $1,000 in “take-home pay that could be used toward child care,” Clinton said.
Clinton said the $4 billion for child care the U.S. government will spend over the next six years “is still not enough.”
Gently swaying back and forth, Terri Marcos tried to comfort her 2-month-old during the speech, so she could concentrate on Clinton’s words.
Marcos, of Bowie, said she is fortunate to live on a street with her entire family.
“I have lots of support,” Marcos said. “I think my situation plays into [Clinton’s] whole political message that it takes a village to raise a child.”
Amy Bernier, sophomore education major at the university, said she found Clinton’s speech informative and the first lady’s 25 years of work on children’s and families’ issues very impressive.
“Hopefully because of her work,” Bernier said, “we won’t have to deal with any of these problems in the future.” The White House will hold a conference on child care October 23, with a focus on bringing private and public sectors together to improve the system. -30-