T H E   W H I T E   H O U S E

White House Conference on Child Care

Help Site Map Text Only

First Lady

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release October 23, 1997


The East Room

10:00 A.M. EDT

MRS. CLINTON: Thank you and please be seated, and welcome to the White House Conference on Child Care. We are delighted to have with us in the East Room today members of Congress and the President's Cabinet, other officials from the government here in Washington. We have many elected officials from around the country and a great group of distinguished guests, including parents and experts in this important issue.

I also want to greet the hundreds of people gathered at the Departments of Agriculture, Labor, and Health and Human Services here in Washington, and to the thousands more who are joining us via satellite from the more than 100 sites at universities, hospitals and schools and businesses around the country.

I'd like to take a minute for all of us to think about what's happening in America this morning, and about what happens every morning. Parents are making the preparations to get to work, and those preparations include for most working families putting their children in the care of others. And most, even before they're out the door, are worrying about the logistics of the care that their children will receive. Some are even worrying about the safety or quality of that care.

There are many who are wondering whether they would get better quality care if they could pay more. Others are struggling to determine how they'll be able to afford next month's payment. And there are many who are in the work force who worry every day about how they'll care for their child and hold down the job that they need. Many parents will go to work, but have trouble focusing on work because they are worried about the sniffle that their daughter had or wondering how their son is faring.

And before we finish today, many more working parents will keep looking anxiously at the clock and will murmur into telephones the instructions that their children need after school, because their concerns don't end at the end of the day for their children's school time, because parents won't get home, so that they have to worry about what happens to keep their child safe and well occupied during those hours, as well.

These are just some of the questions that America's parents are asking themselves this morning and every morning that they prepare to go to work. Some parents ask themselves these questions in the afternoon, as they prepare to go to a swing shift, or at midnight as they start to work in one of the other jobs that are essential to keeping our economy strong.

Earlier this month I went to the University of Maryland to visit its center for young children, and as soon as I walked in the door I knew immediately it was the kind of place any of us would feel comfortable sending our children. I was, frankly, tempted to sign up myself. The walls were painted bright colors. There was lots of natural light. The workers there were creative, energetic and focused. Inside there were toys and crafts material. Outside there was a playground. And the children looked happy and occupied and full of energy.

Now, later I left the center to make a speech, and after the speech I opened the floor to questions. And the very first question was one that I thought summed up the dilemma that we face today. It came from a divorced mother who works full-time as a secretary at the university. To send her 4-year-old son to the center I had visited, she told me, would cost $6,000 a year, a quarter of her income, and she just couldn't do it. She had to do some real juggling to get the situation that she told me about. She was able to send her son to another less expensive center because she qualified for a scholarship, and she moved back in with her parents. Otherwise, she said, I would have to quit my job and go on welfare, and then I would have to worry about who would watch my child as I looked for a job.

She and so many women like her are the reason we are here today, and parents like Paula Broglio, who is here with us in the East Room, represent the millions of parents who worry about this important issue. Thirteen million American children spend all or some of their day being cared for by someone other than their parent. Yet, a recent national study found that child care at most centers in our country is, "poor to mediocre, with almost half of the infants and toddlers in rooms having less than minimal quality."

The study also concluded that fully 40 percent of the rooms serving infants in centers provided care that was of such poor quality as to jeopardize children's health, safety or development. A recent University of Colorado at Denver survey of child care in four states found only one in seven child care centers to be of good quality.

And quality care, as Paula and so many others know, when it is available is often financially out of reach. According to the 1995 census, families earning under $1,200 a month or less than $15,000 a year pay an average of 25 percent of their income for child care. Middle class families are hit hard as well. These families, earning up to $36,000 a year pay 12 percent of their income for child care.

The urgency of this conference today to focus on child care is heightened by the new scientific information we have about the emotional and intellectual development of young children. As we learned at the White House Conference on Early Childhood Development in April, what happens to a child in the earliest years affects how well he or she learns for a lifetime. With 45 percent of our children under the age of one in day care regularly, the issue of quality has tremendous bearing not just on individual lives, but on the future of our nation.

What's more, we now know from other studies that good care, whether given at home or in a day care setting, is good care. Done right, day care can be beneficial for children, and it is, therefore, worth our investment.

There's another reason that compels us to act, and that is demand. Demand for quality child care is growing, hastened on by our new economy, which has meant in the last 40 years dramatic changes in the American work force and in the American family's life. We know, for example, that half of all mothers with children under one year of age are working outside the home, and not only are more parents working, they are working longer hours. Also, with welfare reform we know that many more children will be needing quality child care.

So this conference is meant to start a conversation. It is only one day, but we hope it is a day that will renew our efforts to improve child care in America. We also hope it will involve our entire national community, because every aspect of our life together must be involved in looking for solutions. The federal government has a role to play, but so do state governments, business and labor, the nonprofit and religious communities, school systems, individual citizens, and especially parents.

We also know there are models of excellent child care around the country and we will hear about some of them -- like the military's day care system or the Smart Start Program in North Carolina. These initiatives provide examples of best practices and can energize and inspire us to do more.

We also know how important it is to ensure choice for parents in their selection of child care. One size fits all child care does not fit America's families. We don't work the same hours, we don't have the same economic or other kinds of pressures that we're dealing with, so we have to provide more options and we have to empower parents with good information to enable them to become good consumers. We also have to find ways that would make it easier and more affordable for parents who want to stay home with their children for some period of time to be able to afford to do so.

So I hope we approach this conversation with a certain fearlessness, with the same kind of energy that I see on the face of a three or four-year-old who's going about some task that he knows will occupy himself. We need to have the same kind of fearless approach, asking the hard questions and then listening to the answers.

There will be a lot of questions raised today -- questions about how to ensure the safety of every child in child care; how to do a better job of training and paying care-givers; how to encourage more employers to provide child care benefits of some variety to employees; how to make successful after-school programs more widely available; how to meet the needs of children with disabilities; how to better support parents who choose, often at significant cost, to stay home with their children; how to ensure that quality and affordability do not come at the expense of one another; and how to learn from the good models that we have in every community and state of our country; and, also, how do we leave ideology at the door and honestly address the real needs of America's families.

These are tough questions, and there are many more that we will be considering today. But we consider these questions at an opportune time. And we hope that this conference will spur the conversations around kitchen tables and water coolers and standing in supermarket aisles or at soccer games, or while going to or from work in the carpool -- whatever it takes to engage more Americans in this discussion, to make it clear that we want American parents to succeed at the most important task they have, caring for the next generation, and to be good workers who contribute to the economy and the quality of life that we enjoy in our country.

Now I'd like to address your attention to a video produced by New Screen Concepts, in association with the Families and Work Institute, entitled, "Why Should We Care about Child Care?"

(Video is shown.)

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Welcome to the White House. Thank you very much, Kathy Carliner, for your remarkable statement. And I thought you were very good in the film. Rob Reiner wants to give you a screen test. (Laughter.)

I am so happy to see all of you here. There are many people here who might well be introduced, but I think I must start with the people who are terribly important to whether we will be able to fully achieve our part of the great agenda we are going to lay out today -- the members of Congress who are here. And I'd like to call their names, and then when I finish, ask them all to stand.

Senator Herb Kohl, who sponsored legislation on child care; Senator Jack Reed; Congressman Bill Clay; Congressman Sandy Levin; Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro; Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey; Congresswoman Sue Kelly; Congresswoman Maxine Waters; Congressman Xavier Becerra; and Congressman Nick Lampson. Would the members of Congress who are here please stand. Thank you for coming. (Applause.)

I'd also like to thank my longtime friend -- Hillary and I have been friends of Governor Jim Hunt and his wife, Carolyn, who are here, for almost 20 years now. And I think Governor Romer is here or on his way. Mayor Clever, we're glad to see you. And John Sweeney, the head of the AFL-CIO, and others who have come to be with us today, I thank you very much.

This is a happy day at the White House, first for all the people in the administration and all those who have worked with them for months and months and months to help this day come to pass; and second, and even more important, from my point of view, this is a happy day because I have been listening to the First Lady talk about this for more than 25 years now -- (laughter) -- and it may be that I will finally be able to participate in at least a small fraction of what I have been told for a long time I should be doing. (Laughter.) And I say that in good humor, but also with great seriousness.

This is an anniversary of sorts for me. It was six years ago today as a newly-announced candidate for President that I went back to my alma mater at Georgetown and began a series of three speeches outlining what I thought America ought to look like in the 21st century and what I thought we would have to do to create a country in which everyone had an opportunity, everyone was expected to be a responsible citizen, and where we came together across all the lines that divide us into one community.

There are many things that are necessary for that to be done, but clearly two of them are, first, people in this country have to be able to succeed at work and at home in raising their children. And if we put people in the position of essentially having to chose one over the other, our country is going to be profoundly weakened. Obviously, if people are worried sick about their children, and they fail at work, it's not just individual firms, it's the economic fabric and strength of the country that is weakened. Far more important, if people fail at home, they have failed in our most important job, and our most solemn responsibility.

Second, we'll never be the kind of country we ought to be unless we believe that every child counts and that every child ought to have a chance to make the most of his or her God-given abilities.

That's why we're here today -- to examine where we are and what we still have to do. And what we still have to do is quite a lot, to make sure we live by what we believe when we say that all parents should be able to succeed at home and at work and that every child counts. No parent should ever have to chose between work and family; between earning a decent wage and caring for a child. Especially in this day and age when most parents work, nothing is more important, as you have just heard Kathy Carliner say, than finding child care that is affordable, accessible, and safe. It is America's next great frontier, in strengthening our families and our future.

As the Catholic Conference has noted, no government can love a child and no policy can substitute for a family's care. But there is much that we can do to help parents do their duty to their children. From my days as governor of Arkansas to my service as President, strengthening families has been a central goal of what I have worked on. I'm very proud that the first bill I had the opportunity to sign into law as President was the Family and Medical Leave Act, so that no parent has to choose between caring for a child or keeping a job when a family member is ill.

The expanded earned income tax credit helps to ensure that parents who work don't have to raise their children in poverty. No one who is out there working full-time with children should have to worry about that. Expanded Head Start programs are serving more families than ever before. We've collected record sums of child support enforcement. The historic balanced budget I signed this summer provides a $500-per-child tax credit and helps parents to pay for their children's college education through IRAs, expanded loans and Pell Grants, the HOPE Scholarship and other tax credits.

The Congress has before it now a program of Secretary Riley's called 21st Century Community Schools in which we ask for funds to help our states keep our schools open after classroom hours for children who have no place else to go and need that environment. We've also made some progress on child care. Since 1993, child care assistance has increased by 70 percent to help families pay for nearly a million children. Last year in the welfare reform debate, we fought and won the battle to expand child care assistance by $4 billion over the next six years, giving states an unprecedented opportunity to lead, to innovate in efforts to make child care more affordable.

But we have to do more. With more families required to rely on two incomes to make ends meet, with more single-parent families than ever, more young children are left in the care of others even in their earliest years. And as the First Lady said, we learned at our Conference on Early Childhood and the Brain, that's when children develop or fail to develop capacities that will shape the entire rest of their lives. It's also true that more and more schoolchildren are returning to empty homes after school.

The first thing we have to do is to make it possible for parents to spend time with their children whenever possible. That's why I hope the Congress will vote to expand the Family and Medical Leave law so that parents at least can take some time off for their children's medical appointments, teacher conferences and other basic duties. And I support flex-time laws that will allow workers to choose between receiving overtime in pay or in time off with their families.

But during those times when children can't be with their parents, they must get care that keeps them safe and that helps them to learn and grow. As we all know, too often that isn't the case. Too often, child care is unaffordable, inaccessible and, sometimes, even unsafe. The cost, as Hillary said, strains millions of family budgets. And government assistance meets just about a quarter of the need. Even for those who can afford it, sometimes good care is hard to find, as Kathy said in her remarks. Waiting lists sometimes takes months or years to move, forcing many parents to cobble together unstable arrangements.

The shortage of care puts older children at risk, as well. Five million of them between the ages of five and 14 are left to fend for themselves after school. And as they get older, that increases the chances that they'll be exposed to drugs, tobacco and crime.

Finally, studies have shown that too many child care facilities are literally unsafe. The tragedies that have befallen families who depended on child care continue to make headlines all across our nation. This conference is an important step forward in addressing all these issues. What we learn today should spur us on to find ways to help parents, all parents, afford safe, affordable, high quality child care, whether it's at home, a child care center or a neighbor's house.

In the coming months, our administration will develop a plan to be unveiled at the next State of the Union, to improve access and affordability, and to help to ensure the safety of child care in America. In the meantime, I want to announce four specific things we can do right now.

First, I'm asking Congress to establish a new scholarship fund for child care providers. (Applause.) Too many care-givers don't have the training they need to provide the best possible care. Those who do have training are rarely compensated with higher wages. The scholarship program I propose will help students earn their degrees as long as they remain in the child care field for at least a year, and it will ensure that care-givers who complete their training will receive a bonus or a raise.

Second, we have to weed out the people who have no business taking care of our children in the first place. I am transmitting to Congress the National Crime Prevention and Privacy Compact, which will make background checks on child care providers easier and more effective by eliminating state barriers to sharing criminal histories for this specific purpose. I urge Congress to pass and states to ratify this legislation.

Third, I've asked Secretary Rubin to oversee a working group on child care, composed primarily of business leaders working with labor and community representatives to find ways more businesses can provide child care or help their employees afford high quality child care. And again, I thank John Sweeney for his important support of this initiative. (Applause.) In some ways the most gripping part of that film we saw was the father talking about how he was just consumed with worry at work. No parent should ever have to go through that.

Finally, we must use community service to strengthen and expand access to after-school programs. Today, the Corporation for National Service through its To Learn and Grow Initiative will pledge to help after-school programs all across our country to use volunteers to provide better care to children. It is releasing a how-to manual for groups who want to incorporate community service into after-school programs. And I think that, Secretary Riley, if we can win in our little budget battle here on the 21 century community schools, then together, we can do some real good out there on this issue.

My friends, for centuries, over two now, the American Dream has represented a compact that those who work hard and play by the rules should be able to build better lives for themselves and for their children. In this time, and even more into the future, child care that is too expensive, unsafe or unavailable will be a very stubborn obstacle to realizing that dream. So let us commit ourselves to clearing the obstacle, to helping parents fulfill their most sacred duty, to keeping the American Dream alive for them and most important, for their children.

Thank you very much. (Applause.)

MRS. CLINTON: You know, Ellen, I think that your work over the last number of years from the Families and Work Institute has really helped to highlight a lot of these issues. And one of the most important audiences for this conference, of course, are parents. And I'd like to ask you how we do a better job of empowering parents to make choices about working and child care that are best for their families, and as a subsidiary of that, in particular, what are your views about how we can support parents who want to stay home with their children?

MS. GALINSKY: Well, have the notion in this country that there is a system of choice, but, in fact, if you look at parents choosing child care, we find in our studies between 58 percent and 75 percent of parents feel that they have zero other choices other than the arrangement that they've chosen when they have child care. So, of course, we need to provide better quality child care. And we need to provide the choice for families to stay at home that's a real choice. And you talked about the earned income tax credit and you talked about family medical leave. So it's income and it's programs and policies that support them.

But I think even more important is respect. Right now, I feel often when I talk to mothers and fathers around the country that those mothers who work feel that they're doing something wrong, that they're missing out on their child's life, that society is judging them negatively. And the mothers who are staying at home feel that they're losing the opportunity to earn money and that society is judging them negatively.

So I think what we need to do is to -- you know, I keep wondering, what are we doing to this generation of families? Let's really not only provide real choices, but let's respect them in the choices that they make.

MRS. CLINTON: Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT: I'd like to ask one question. First of all, I can't help saying this -- when I heard you say that warm and responsive child care actually triggered a biochemical reaction that reduced stress -- I wish we could have a center like that for the White House staff and the Congress staff. (Laughter.) We may actually come up with a revolutionary new proposal here today. (Laughter.)

Let me ask you a serious question. One of the things that I have, that I constantly try to deal with here that I'm super sensitive to because I was a governor for 12 years before I came here, is trying to determine who should do what -- what we can do and make a difference; what we have to basically either exhort or incentivize or require some other people to do.

I was quite taken by the comment you made that only 36 hours of training of a child care worker can make a huge difference. I can't help thinking there probably are a lot of young, often single parents that might benefit from the same 36 hours of training. And I'm wondering how you think that issue ought to be dealt with. Should states basically upgrade their training standards and put funds into it? Should there be training centers established, more than are there now, even if everybody were required to do it? Are there enough places that do the training in all states?

Talk a little bit about how we might set up an infrastructure and pattern of training to give -- let's suppose we said within two years we wanted every child care provider, even people who do it out of their home, wherever, to get the 36 hours of training, and we'd like it to be open, let's say, to low-income parents who are having their first child -- how would we do such a thing?

MS. GALINSKY: The block grant in child care actually, I think, was very helpful. Some of the programs that we looked at were supported by that. And what they did was to let communities determine how best to meet the needs of the people there. But what was particularly interesting to me in that -- so you need to make training available, you need to also make it -- and I think your proposal is terribly important -- you need to make sure that people who get training then make enough money to be able to stay in the field.

People came into the training in our study for, not so much to learn about kids, but they came into training to figure out, what do I do Monday morning, how do I deal with business practices, sort of the more practical aspects of how do I manage my job. And then they got interested in kids and their development. And when that 18 to 36 hours of training was over, almost everyone, more than 95 percent, wanted to continue their training and they wanted it tied into a credentialing system. They wanted to get college credit for it. And then we followed them over the next year or so and about half of them did get more training.

So it's not just that 36 hours is a magic number or that there's a magic bullet. It's the opportunity to provide meaningful training, training that really helps people where they are in their own development, and to have it continue.

THE PRESIDENT: But what percentage of the people who are now providing child care get that kind of training? That's the question I'm trying to get.

MS. GALINSKY: Well, I don't really know the exact figure of that, but I don't think that it's very many. I mean, in most states in the country all you have to do to start being a child care provider is be alive and breathing and over 18 years old, and hopefully be a good person, as you're saying. And then you have to promise in many states to get training. In a study that we have just finished and hasn't been released yet, even though they required 30 hours of training in that state, very few people actually did it, and it was required. So it's not enough to require it, we need to have a system that supports it.

In that particular study, there were obstacles to getting the training. It wasn't so easily accessible and they couldn't have time off to do it. So we need to create training that is available, affordable, nearby and good quality, and we need to have the whole child care system support it. You have a requirement and then you don't enforce it, you might as well not have it.

MRS. CLINTON: You know, that just reminds me of how often I've heard it said that we have all kinds of licensing and professional requirements for people who do your hair or other kinds of important functions. Why did I think of hair first? I don't know. (Laughter.) Can't imagine. But we don't have anything like the same licensing, credentialing requirements for people who hold themselves out as child care workers. So there is a real disconnect between what we say is important and what we value and what we have systems for supporting.

Thank, you, Ellen.

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. I would just like to make a couple of observations. I thought what you said was terrific. First of all, until -- the crime rate in America's been going down for five years now, rather steeply, but it's been going up among people under 18. It may have leveled off, maybe dropping a little bit now; we're hopeful. But if it is, it's because more and more communities are doing what you suggested. We need another -- at least another year to see whether it's changed.

But you are very familiar with what's been done in Boston, and one of the things that's been done is the whole juvenile justice system has been geared to be warm and responsive. Juvenile probation officers make house calls will police officers. And community groups walk the streets in the afternoon to, basically, almost pick the kids up and give them things to do and get them involved with things. And as far as I know, it's the only major city in America where nobody under 18 has been killed by a gun in two years now. But, it's not rocket science. It's a systematic attempt to take personal responsibility for all these children after school. And I can tell you, you see the flip side of it in these juvenile crime rates -- it's really touching and quite moving.

The other thing I wanted to say is I wonder if you have any sense, just as a practical matter, of whether these programs tend to work better is they are school-based. And the reason I ask that is I think that we fight these battles around here all the time of how to spend the school money, and most money for schools comes from the state and local level, anyway. But I think one of the biggest problems that these schools have on the issue you've talked about is in school after school after school after school, financial problems have caused them to cut back on their art programs, cut back on their music programs, cut back on their non-varsity athletic programs, the things that children used to typically do after school or could stay after school and do. The school districts as they're now budgeting and as they're now staffed and under the rules under which they now labor, they cannot -- more and more schools are dropping these programs. And I think it's disastrous, because a lot of it is just exactly how children relate in kind of a nonlinear, just purely intellectual way that both of you have said is so important. And I was wondering if you've seen that and if you think that's contributing to the problem.

I mean, a lot of people, without any programs, used to just stay after school because there was an art project, there was a music project, you were getting ready for a concert, the intramural teams were playing. And this is -- you know, there are huge school districts in this country where all of these things are a thing of the past. People look at you like you've lost your mind when you talk about this now; they haven't had these things in years.

And it may be that one of the things we ought to be exploring is whether we can reinstitute some of these things in the lives of our schools that would naturally lead to an out-of-school atmosphere so they wouldn't think about adopting a new program approach. Anyway, I just kind of wanted to ask you that: Are the schools the best place if they work, or does it not matter if you do it right?

MS. SELIGSON: I think it should be a matter of whoever is ready, willing and able to do after-school programs. And I think if schools are ready, willing and able to do them and to find the resources to make them enriching and creative environments, then schools should be the place. But it's not an either-or situation, because really schools can partner with community-based organizations, and most of the school-based care that's out there right now looks like that. It looks like partnerships with the Y or with community organizations.

And then there are some school districts that have put money behind after-school care because they see it in their best interestS to do that in terms of what the outcomes will be for the kids. And some Title I money is going into after school programs. So I think all of it possible. I don't see the schools as the only locus. And because there is such local autonomy about decision-making, the local school board makes those decisions, it's very much a community-by-community decision.

MRS. CLINTON: Can you speak more, though, about what makes up a good after school program? What are the components that you would look for as a parent or as a community leader who wanted to provide such a service in your community? Because sometimes I worry that, just as the President was saying, a lot of what we took for granted when we were growing up is no longer readily available. And a lot of the after-school programs that I visit or that I hear about seem so academically oriented, they're not letting kids sort of blow off steam and explore other talents and be part of doing something different. So perhaps you could talk a little bit about what the components of a good after-school program are, and address the issue about whether or not they're valuable only if they are academically oriented.

MS. SELIGSON: Well, of course, the single most important feature in an after-school program that one would call good is the staff. And that means people who have been trained, who are prepared to work in these informal learning environments with kids.

The other thing that I'd like to say about the academic programs is that academic programs are fine as long as they understand, those program planners understand that you can't do academics alone in a vacuum without meeting the other needs of kids. Because kids will vote with their feet, and even if they stay in the program, they may be absent emotionally or mentally. So all programs should have good space, comfortable facilities. Children should feel that they're not just occupying a cafeteria that isn't really theirs, where they can put their things down, where they can start a project and not have to wrap it up before they're finished with it, where someone actually looks at them and says, aha, so you're interested in radio or chess or macrame or whatever, and really takes the time to create opportunities for that child to learn how to do those things and do them well.

So I think it's about, as I said, the relationship and the individual, the nature of the relationship between the staff and the individual child. And I think also for parents, it has to be a place where they feel comfortable coming. Many parents find after-school programs to be sort of gateways for them into the school, sort of mediating places, a way to feel more comfortable themselves with the actual schoolteachers and the regular school day.

MRS. CLINTON: Thank you very much, Michelle.

THE PRESIDENT: I have to excuse Secretary Rubin in a moment to return to his duties, but I wanted to make one point and ask one question. The point I want to make is, he tries real hard to put on that sort of cold shtick, you know, that this is just economics, but -- (laughter) --

SECRETARY RUBIN: "Shtick" is an Arkansas term. (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: I learned that from him, that word, you know. (Laughter.) But I'm sure you could see there was more there.

It occurred to me, listening to you talk about this, that this child care issue is an example of what makes our work both wonderful and maddening. How many times has Secretary Riley and I said that every problem in American education has been solved by somebody in some school somewhere, so why don't we get uniform excellence.

I just had the most difficult policy development process I have been through I think since I've been President, that Secretary Rubin and I did together; it was on trying to develop America's position on climate change. But it had very little to do with the science. There is literally enough technology out there today to enable us without lowering our standard of living, indeed while raising our standard of living, to substantially cut our emissions of greenhouse gases. And I can cite you industry after industry after industry that's made a ton of money doing it on their own, so why doesn't everybody do it? Why don't we even have a critical mass of companies doing it? And I ask you that question. So we've got another example here with child care.

If you can cite these examples where all of these companies are making money and having happier, more productive employees, what are the barriers? Why is the market dysfunctional in cases like this, and what can we do to make it work? Because if we were trying to get hookups to the Internet, we'd have 100 percent penetration in one-tenth of the time it takes us to get 10 percent penetration for educational excellence, environmental conservation or spread of child care. What's the difference? (Laughter.)

SECRETARY RUBIN: Are you asking me? (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: I think it's the single, most important question about social policy today. You and I think about this allthe time, but I don't know what you think about this.

This is not in the notes, he's not prepared to say this.

SECRETARY RUBIN: You're the President of the United States, you're supposed to know the answer to these things. (Laughter.) But having said that, I'll give you a view, whatever it's worth.

I think, Mr. President, you make a very good point. And I think you can point to a lot of other areas where the same thing is true. I think what we need to do -- and it's true with respect to the importance of our country and the global economy, -- the importance of trade liberalization and a lot of other things -- I think there is a need for a massive effort of trying to improve the understanding of people in all parts of our economy and our society about what we really need to do in this new and modern global economy. And I think one of the great difficulties is trying to communicate what really matters -- issues such as this in a world which has so much else coming in at people that, really, in my judgment, matters very little.

But I think that your point here, which is to set up a private sector group of some sort -- or it wouldn't be totally private sector necessarily, but a group of people of some sort, try to identify the best practices, try to identify what works, try to identify problems, and then go out and amongst their peers try to bring to their peers the same understanding they they've acquired through their own experience is maybe the most effective and best way to do this, rather than having somebody else who is not part of their world talking to them and trying to bring them into a shared understanding. And that's at least what we're going to try to do with this, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. (Applause.)

MRS. CLINTON: Thank you very much, Secretary Rubin. It is true -- I think you could hear the frustration in the President's voice, that he spends a lot of time, and all of us around him spend a lot of time, and all of us around him spend a lot of time wondering why the best practices and the model programs in a variety of areas in our country don't receive greater awareness and provide more models for people to follow, so that we could spread the success that is evident in so many ways every time you travel around our country.

And we're going to turn to the next part of our program and in a way start addressing this very issue, because Part Two is how we are doing in meeting the challenge and what we need to be doing.

We're going to turn to four additional experts who will address how we're working to assure that families have access to safe, affordable child care, and also give us some insight into what is working well and what we might do to try to replicate that.

THE PRESIDENT: I was glad to hear what you said about not being able to sit still after 3:00 p.m. (Laughter.) I'm glad to know you've been sitting still before 3:00 p.m. (Laughter.) I have never seen you still for two minutes in all of our acquaintance. This is amazing. (Laughter.)

I don't think you can answer this now, but I think it's quite important that we be explicit about a dilemma that we will face as we move toward next year, the State of the Union, what our position ought to be. We all know that there will be in the context of the budget agreement we just adopted, fierce competition for limited money. We're going to have some more money to put into this; we'll do the very best we can. It will be a priority, but still, it seems to me that there will be competition for what the best way the federal government can spend more money in child care is.

We could increase the tax credit to either make it more generous to people who get it now or move it up in the income limits. We could expand Head Start, particularly the Zero To Three program, where we've only got just a few thousand kids now -- 25,000 or something. And I think the early results are pretty promising. It's a terribly important initiative. Or we could devise some way to help get these salaries up, which is abysmal.

When you were talking about the salaries, Hillary gave me a chart which showed that child care workers on the whole are better educated than the American work force and lower paid. So we keep saying we want all these people to come in and get more education and more training, and yet -- and there are some cases where people don't have any education or training, but there are a lot of them that are quite well-educated that are working for ridiculously limited wages. (Applause.)

So what's your sense about how we ought to go about making that decision? And I'll just give a blanket invitation to the audience, too, that if you were in my position and you knew you couldn't do a hundred percent of all these things, would you do a little bit of all of them, would you focus on one, would you focus on the other? And I invite you to make your views known to us either today during the course, or in writing -- because this will be a difficult thing. Congressman Lampson is still here; he's going to have to make a decision about how to vote on this stuff. And we will have to decide.

SECRETARY SHALALA: Mr. President, I think that all of us would say to you we have to invest resources in quality. Start with the basics -- health, safety and encouraging a good learning environment, focus on the care-giver, start with the care of our youngest children and also our school-age children. But it has to be a quality agenda. That's where the weakness is in the system, and focusing on those care-givers is going to be very important in the future. (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you very much. I agree with the last thing you said for sure. (Laughter.)

Let me say, the reason I wanted Governor Hunt to come here today, apart from our 20 years of friendship and my immense admiration for him, is that -- if I could go back to the question I asked Secretary Rubin -- the great trick we have with all great social questions in America is that we know that government can't solve alone, either because we don't have the resources or the capacity, is how to have grass-roots, community-based partnerships that still, when the day is over, add up to a system that serves everybody instead of just makes nice, touching stories we can all tell each other at seminars till kingdom come.

And that is what they have done in North Carolina. They have kept the entrepreneurial spirit, they have the partnership. They've cobbled money together, first one place, then another, and he's put a lot of new money in it, and because he has taken this initiative and set up a framework within which creativity and partnership can flourish, they have a system. And I still believe -- I'll say it again -- I think that is the great sort of challenge that America faces that goes across so many of our problems and plainly relates to this.

The only question I wanted to ask you about it that I would like you to specifically address is, do you have enough money to deal with the dilemma that raising quality standards must increase your cost to some extent, and does that price anybody out of it? And if not, why not?

GOVERNOR HUNT: Well, Mr. President, we don't have enough money. We've put about an additional $100 million of state funds into this in the last two or three years, and we've been bringing the counties in as they prepared for it. Three years from now -- they have all gotten some planning money. They really have to really show that they're doing this right. Three years from now, our plan is to have $300 million state dollars in this, in addition to what we had before, federal money and so on. (Applause.)

We think that will get us pretty close to quality for kids. But it may not be enough, and costs go up. It is terribly hard to get the resources. That's why we've got to understand how important this is. You can't do this on the cheap. You really can't. (Applause.) That's why we need businesses' help. We need everybody's help we need the in-kind, churches providing the places, and we need all the federal money we can get, Mr. President. (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: You know, just one other thing I'd like to say that I think we ought to consider -- this is a little thing, but you talked about the bully pulpit -- I think a lot of people are just plain, old-fashioned ignorant about what's involved in being an effective, successful child care worker, would be surprised at the average educational level of child care workers in America and the average pay. And I think that we ought -- one of the things that we ought to do with this bully pulpit idea of yours is start trying to find ways that every community and every state can honor outstanding child care workers the same ways we honor teachers today, or scientists or others. (Applause.) Because, I think that's terribly important. I just don't think society -- I don't think they mean to devalue people in this work, I just think they don't know -- most people.

GOVERNOR HUNT: Mr. President, if I may, last year, Mrs. Hunt and I had a statewide gala banquet, 1,200 people or so in the State Capitol to present the awards to the top child care-givers like top teachers. And they came from all over the state. And we had the winners in every county. We really need to really start doing that, showing our appreciation, holding these people up, telling how important this is. We've done it some for schools, not nearly enough. You're going to honor teachers tomorrow right here. But we need to do it for child care-givers, the most important teachers in the world.

PRESIDENT CLINTON: I don't think you can underestimate how important it is for people to say to other people that they matter. And if it matters in your personal life, it's got to matter in all these other areas, too. I think it's a big issue.

MRS. CLINTON: Well, I just want to thank Governor Hunt for his example, because one of our hopes is through this conference to highlight what states are doing. He mentioned some of the other states that have very good practices and are expanding the supply of affordable quality child care. I know that the President fought very hard to put into the Welfare Reform Act that there be a provision that would set aside a portion of federal child care dollars to improve quality in the states. And that's a very important aspect of what we hope states are going to be able to do.

MRS. CLINTON: Dr. Washington, that was an excellent analysis of what we are confronting. And what would be your advice about how the President, governors, all of us who are concerned about this issue could do more to engage communities in this discussion where either the community themselves, or the leadership of the community don't think they have any particular stake in trying to pursue the sort of process that you outlined and that Governor Hunt has put into practice in North Carolina?

DR. WASHINGTON: Well, as we've all heard today, we all benefit from quality child care. We've got the word out that child care is a collective good. That's why the federal role and the state role and the local role is so important. Child care is a collective good that doesn't just benefit the people who receive the service, the children and the families themselves, but it gives benefits that accrue to the whole society. That's what we've heard the Secretary speak to. We've got to get this message out in our communities, child care is a collective good; we all benefit from child care.

MRS. CLINTON: Thank you very much.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, that is, I think, an extraordinary way to wrap up our morning session. I can't think of anything that could be added to what you said. But if you think about what all of our last speakers said, it amounts a plea to us to do what we can to both increase the coherence and completeness of community-based action within a framework that creates a system that involves all our children.

And again, let me say to all of you involved in this work, I am profoundly grateful to you. I thank you for being here today. This has been an immensely enlightening day to me. I have

been struggling to understand this issue, especially since one day several years ago -- we all have our little epiphanies in life about these matters, but Hillary had been talking to me about child care for years, and one day -- and I was running for governor, more than well over a decade ago -- I used to make a habit in every election season of going to the earliest plant gate in my state, because the workers came to work between 4:30 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. And even the vote-hungriest politicians wouldn't get up that early. (Laughter.) So I always had them all to myself.

And I never will forget, one day I came home and I told Hillary, I said, "you won't believe what happened to me at a quarter to 5:00 a.m. this morning," it was a Campbell soup plant in North Arkansas, and this pickup truck rolled up. And as often happened, the husbands and wives, and one was taking the other to work and they would come up in the dark and kiss each other good-bye. And so this pickup truck came up and this lady leaned over and kissed her husbandgood-bye and opened the door. And the light came on, and inside were three children under the age of five.

And so I went over and talked to the young man when his wife went in to work -- at a quarter to 5:00 a.m. I said, what are you doing with these kids and how do you do this? He said, well, we've got to get them up every morning at a quarter to 4:00 a.m. And we dress them up. And he said, I keep them as long as I can, but I have to be at work at 7:00 a.m. So I had to find somebody who would take care of them at 6:30 a.m. Three kids under five. But, he said, we've got three kids under five. We both have to work.

Now, there are millions of stories like that. And they are no less gripping for the parents than those who don't have quite such strange circumstances. But it is inconceivable to me that we have had all of you wonderful people working at this and we've put all this money in it, and we still never develop a systematic approach or, in the words of Patty, a quilt that everybody can be a part of. And that, I think, we should all leave as our mission.

Thank you very much. (Applause.)

President and First Lady | Vice President and Mrs. Gore
Record of Progress | The Briefing Room
Gateway to Government | Contacting the White House
White House for Kids | White House History
White House Tours | Help | Text Only

Privacy Statement

Child Care

Remarks by the First Lady on Child Care

White House Conference on Child Care

Child Care Announcement

Redbook Magazine ``Mothers and Shakers of 1998`` Awards

April 22, 1998

Project Connect Child Development Program