Edward F. Zigler, a Yale University psychologist who was one of the architects of the hugely successful Head Start program, has developed a proposal for a far-reaching new child care system that would be anchored in neighborhood schools.
His ideas are laid out in the December issue of Psychology Today in a cover story written by senior editor Robert J. Trotter.
"I want a solution that's going to last for the next 100 years and provide quality day care for everyone," says Zigler. "I think my plan can do that. I've been working on this problem for 30 years, and I can't come up with a better solution. It's simple, it's pragmatic, it's economically viable. These are not new ideas. They've been tried, and they work. I'm just putting it together in one system."
His proposals take into consideration some findings that have gained wide acceptance among child development experts. For example, there has emerged an agreement that an adult care-giver should not be responsible for more than three infants at any time. Educators and child development specialists are taking an increasingly vocal stand against formal schooling for 4-year-olds. At that age, they are learning by playing, not by being taught at a school desk, yet the need for child care is so intense in some communities that schools are being pressured into all-day kindergarten for 4-year-olds.
Zigler would put 3- and 4-year-olds in day care programs in the schools, but emphasize play and socialization. At 5 years of age, a child could proceed into half-day kindergarten -- and then home for the rest of the day or into day care at the school, depending on the child's circumstances. Children 6 to 12 years old who have working parents would have access to before- and after-school care at the school as well as care during school vacations.
In effect, Zigler is calling for a full-service school that would be the hub for a community's child care services. "I think we have to build a new school in America," he told the magazine. "We have to change the school system. We have to open schools earlier in the morning, keep them open later in the afternoon and during summer."
Many communities that have school-age child care programs already do this, with so much success that many have long waiting lists. Zigler would also give the schools a large role to play in developing infant care, usually the most expensive and difficult care for working parents to find. More than half of the infants of working parents are cared for by family day care providers in their homes or are cared for in centers.
Quality, Zigler points out, is often erratic and uneven and he cites examples of children being strapped to chairs and being cared for by people so senile they cannot even care for themselves. The children from affluent families have the best shot at getting the more expensive care, while it is the children of impoverished families who are likely to be in undesirable day care situations because that is all their parents can afford. "They are already vulnerable, or at risk, because they come from single-parent homes or from families with little money, a lot of deprivation and poor health care," Zigler says. "And they are being placed at even greater risk by being put into very inadequate child care settings. We are talking about hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of children."
He proposes using the schools as resource centers to help parents find care in their neighborhoods, to provide training for day care workers, and to ensure that the network of family day care homes in the area meet licensing standards.
Zigler worked with Rep. John Brademas (D-Ind.) and Sen. Walter Mondale (D-Minn.) in making the Child Development Act of 1971, which President Nixon vetoed after a right-wing campaign depicted it as "antifamily."
Zigler proposes financing his current child care proposal by charging fees to those who can pay and by using federal subsidies for those who cannot. He also suggests slight increases in local taxes to support the expanded role of the schools.
For starters, he suggests that the federal government spend $120 million to set up a pilot program of 60 full-service schools, at least one in each state. These models could be replicated once they are working.
Zigler describes his proposal as "a new vision," which it surely is. But he makes the point that between fall 1964 and summer 1965 this country enrolled 560,000 children in Head Start. As he told the magazine: "We can do the same with day care." If the will is there.