Piper: Invest in child care

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 25, 1999

While a new study released demonstrated that children who get quality child care have better outcomes, another study showed only 15 percent of eligible children receive government subsidies.

Monday, October 25, 1999

While a new study released demonstrated that children who get quality child care have better outcomes, another study showed only 15 percent of eligible children receive government subsidies.

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Poor infants and toddlers who get high-quality child care are more apt to graduate from high school, attend college and delay having children, according to the Abecedarian Project, a study that tracked 111 children from infancy through age 21, beginning in 1972.

The results of the Abecedarian Project were released Thursday, just days after a government report showed that of the nearly 10 million low- and moderate-income children eligible for government-funded child care, only 15 percent are actually getting the subsidies.

The report, prepared by the Health and Human Services Department and released Tuesday, found that under state laws last year nearly 9.9 million children were eligible for subsidies that help pay for child care. But just over 1.5 million children were actually getting the aid.

Under the programs, states offer child care subsidies on a sliding scale, with the aid phasing out as a family’s income grows.

States were slow to begin spending extra money allocated for child care in the 1996 welfare overhaul. But now the states have spent virtually every dollar available, the report says.

Senator Pat Piper, DFL-Austin, agreed that Minnesota doesn’t have enough money to help all children who qualify for the subsidies.

&uot;There are a couple different ways that we help, but obviously there’s never enough money,&uot; Piper said.

She added, &uot;An early investment brings such a big return.&uot;

Piper agrees with child development experts who say the first five years are the most important in the child’s development.

&uot;We need to invest early on. We simply can’t lose those early years,&uot; Piper said. She’s meeting with a group that hopes to &uot;help society understand the value of reaching our littlest ones.&uot;

The Abecedarian Project seems to support the group’s claims.

The children in the study were divided into two groups – 54 who had an array of child care arrangements, and 57 who received high-quality child care starting between 6 weeks and 4 months.

Of the 111 original participants, 104 were evaluated last spring.

Among the findings:

– The high-quality day-care children had higher cognitive test scores than the control group from toddler years to age 21.

– Their academic achievement in both reading and math was higher from the primary grades through young adulthood.

– They completed more years of education and were more likely to attend a four-year college.

– They were, on average, two years older (19 years) when their first children were born compared with those in the control group (17 years), though the youngest parents in both groups were comparable in age when the first children were born.

Benefits also extended beyond the children: Their mothers achieved higher educational and employment status than mothers of control-group children, the study said.

Piper hopes the results encourage Minnesotans to invest more in early childhood development.

&uot;Just under 2 percent of the state budget is invested in early child care issues,&uot; Piper said.

&uot;We have a very excellent K-12 system that involves all of society,&uot; Piper said. &uot;But we have a non system for the littlest ones.&uot;

Piper said the development of children from birth through age five is mostly left to the parents, but programs like Head Start and School Readiness can help those children develop further.

Proponents of the Abecedarian Project say there’s a strong indication that a long-term effect can be obtained from early childhood programs.

Last year, states spent a total of $3.5 billion in federal and state money for child care subsidies. Much of the spending was required to qualify for federal dollars, but states spent a total of $686 million more in welfare money in order to help more children.

In his budget proposal for 2000, President Clinton asked Congress for $19 billion over five years in increased child care money. That included more money for subsidies and more in tax credits for working parents and for parents who forgo a second income to stay home with kids.