The Department of Health and Human Services (Formerly HEW) has new regulations on daycare. And -- to no one's surprise -- they are surrounded by controversy.
"These regulations will increase our daycare from $35 to $55 a week," claims Cindy Pandolfo of Mason, Ariz. "When you take home $140 a week, you've got a problem."
Pandolfo flew to Washington recently to lobby her congressional delegation and HHS to rescind the federal regulations (scheduled to go into effect Oct. 1), and maintain the current system of state regulations.
While the new rules deal with everything from staff training to children's medical records, Pandolfo, co-founder of Concerned Parents of Arizona, is upset primarily with the new requirements for staffing. For example, under current Arizona law, a center must have one staff person for every 15 children aged 4. The federal regulations require one staff person for every nine children in that age group.
"Quantity," she claims, "doesn't mean better care."
Says Janet Coble, HHS project coordinator for the daycare regulations, "We don't mean to sound unsympathetic. The cost impact is large. But we feel the federal regulations represent a minimum standard of care.
"Cindy represents one end of the continum. There are people who are just as adamant that we are not stringent enough."
One is William Pierce, assistant executive director of the Child Welfare League of America. "The regulations," he says, "are quite a step backward for quality and protection. And the screams of outrage from parents are actually the result of prodding by (profit-making centers) who don't want to meet even bare custodial care."
Pierce, 44, believes strongly that the U.S. should have "government-guaranteed, universal daycare."
"Right now," he says, "parents are buying daycare on one criteria: price."
Meanwhile, the Day Care Council of America, Inc., says in its June newsletter, "They (federal daycare requirements) may not be exactly what each of us has wanted . . . but we will have a set of federal standards below which no federally-funded program may fall."
Included in the package of lobbying materials Pandolfo brought East is a letter from R. Robert Russell, director of the Council on Wage and Price Stability (COWPS), which reads in part:
We found that HEW has not established a clear need for the regulations, and that the burden of compliance would be felt by working parents who would find fewer daycare homes available . . . we have urged HEW reconsider portions of its proposed daycare requirements in light of the costs they would impose on centers and on working parents."
COWPS, however, has no authority to force an agency to change its regulations. And while Pandolfo found a sympathetic ear at most of the congressional offices she visited, HHS officials say the new regulations are law, and no changes will be made until the agency conducts a review in three years.
States may apply for a two-year phase-in period for the regulations, which Arizona has done. HHS also allows a center to waive the new regulations if fewer than 20 percent of tis children are attending under federal subsidy.
"What the waiver means," claims Pandolfo, "is that a lot of centers won't take federally-subsidized kids, which will create economic segregation."
Pandolfo, 30, says that for her, and the majority of the 2,500 parents who have joined her organization since its founding in January, daycare she can afford is a necessity.
Like many members of her group Pandolfo is divorced. Her job, running the accounting office of a computer firm, often means a 12-hour day.
"My former husband lives in another state, so I have to have somewhere for my 7-year-old to go before and after school because I have to work," she says. "And Scott is at a good center where they really care about the kids."
Concerned Parents banded together originally for economic reasons, but Pandolfo is working now toward making the organization "a national PTA for daycare."
"We'd like to have a certification committee, so when parents see a center has approval from us, they would know it's a good place. We would like to have regular meetings with center directors, which we're doing now in Arizona.
"We'd also like to have parenting courses, to help us cope better. Being a single parent is a lonely thing.
"I was never a fighter," she adds, "until I got involved in this. You can complain about the bureaucracy, but if you don't do something it's your own fault."