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Education Reporter
Number 136 EDUCATION REPORTER May 1997

Hillary Promotes Early Childhood Intervention

WASHINGTON, DC - In an interview on Good Morning America, Hillary Clinton admitted that new findings on early childhood development might fuel working mothers' guilt. She was referring to recently published studies at a White House conference April 17 showing the importance of parents' verbal stimulation in a child's first three years.

The week of the conference, Mrs. Clinton lashed critics of federal programs for children who say "it's too expensive, it's too interventionist, and it won't work, and that what we need to do is get back to a time when each individual was responsible for him or herself. . . . We are all in this together, whether we like it or not."

"We just have to acknowledge that there are certain kinds of investments that will save us money," Mrs. Clinton said. "If we invest in the front end of some of these early intervention strategies, I honestly believe that we would not be spending so much money on prisons and mental health and drug abuse treatment."

House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-MO) bemoaned that America is suffering from a "child-raising deficit" that is worse than the federal budget deficit. "We all know that government can't raise children. But we all know that kids can't raise themselves," Gephardt told the Children's Defense Fund, making no mention of parents. He believes that "government has a responsibility to help."

Gephardt advocates government-funded child care so both parents can be employed as well as federal subsidies or tax breaks so that children can be put on the public dole for health insurance.

Following in step is Missouri Governor Mel Carnahan, who announced in March his intentions for a study of children's early years of life. The group, called the Governor's Commission on Early Childhood Care and Education, will evaluate programs available for children ages 0 to 5. By year's end, it will offer recommendations on how to improve education and care for children.

"Our goal is to make sure our children enter school ready to learn," said Carnahan, echoing the first of the eight National Education Goals.

Carnahan, a Democrat, has also pledged to start pilot projects at schools with full-day child-care centers. He also wants to see pre-kindergarten schools started for 3- and 4-year-olds. Missouri's Parents as Teachers program involves children from birth to age 3.

Hollywood is jumping on the bandwagon, too. "I am Your Child," a one-hour special hosted by Tom Hanks and directed by Rob Reiner, aired on ABC on April 28.

The show's purpose was to educate the public on the importance of "nurturing of children during their formative first three years" and documented stories of parents who receive "child-rearing guidance from an active community-support system," i.e., tax-funded social services. Johnson & Johnson, the corporate arm of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, sponsored the show.

Reiner credited a 1994 Carnegie report, called "Starting Points," as the show's inspiration. The report emphasized the first three years of a child's life as crucial for proper emotional, physical, social, and intellectual development. The New York-based Carnegie Corporation's Task Force on Learning in the Primary Grades also advocated universal (i.e., public) preschool starting at age 3 in order for all children to be successful students. (See Education Reporter, December 1996.)

"From a purely practical standpoint," Reiner told TV Guide, "if we shift our priorities and focus on the first three years of life, we can save so much later. We are fools if we don't look at social ills through the prism of the first three years.

"This is the time of the greatest opportunity and the greatest risk," he continued. "Unfortunately, there is virtually no public funding for children under age 3-when 90% of brain growth occurs."

In conjunction with "I Am Your Child," an all-out public awareness campaign has been launched, including a Newsweek special issue, Public Service Announcements, and an on-line information service.

The campaign's goals for public policy include creating comprehensive preventative health care for families, expanding the availability of child care and early education, and reversing "current patterns of [parental] neglect."

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