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Day Care: A Global Perspective

*A Stockholm father takes his nine-year-old daughter Inger to a leisure-time center when he and his wife leave for work. Inger goes to school at 10 a.m. and returns to the center at 3 p.m. Her father, a cab driver, picks her up a few hours later. The center is convenient, governmentsponsored. The father has one complaint: "It makes everyone too much the same."

*A mother from a Paris suburb has a "Wednesday" problem with her 12-year-old son. On other days this single working woman usually allows him to remain after school and finish up his homework in a supervised setting. But on Wednesdays, French schools are open only a half day for older pupils -completely closed to those in the primary grades. This mother can't afford a child-care center. And recreational programs are scarce in the area. So the boy is left to his own devices. *When school lets out in a run-down area of Croydon, a London suburb, minibuses pick up children, ages five to and run them to an old house called Gingerbread Corner. Until parents come to pick them up around 6 p.m., the youngsters play games, eat snacks, and read under the watchful eye of Mitzi More and her helpers. The children come from single-parent homes in the area. Parents pay about $14 a week. But most of the monies to sustain this project flow from a European Community antipoverty program. Funds will soon run out, and there are threats to demolish the building. However, a drive is now afoot to get other financing from the British government.

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Care for school-age children when they are not in school -and when their parents are at work -has fast become an international issue. As women enter the job market in increasing numbers from Manitoba to Munich, this issue is swelling into a global problem.

In Western democracies the need for day care has been made more urgent by new emphasis on equal opportunities between the sexes, the phenomenal increase of singleparent families, and the pressing need for two incomes.

In communist nations child care is woven into the system that prods all healthy adults to contribute to national productivity.

Many industrialized nations now subscribe to a national child-care program. Sweden's is the most sweeping -with an emphasis not only on government-subsidized child care through elementary grades but on salary extensions to allow a mother or father to stay at home for nine months with a newborn infant.

However, government involvement in child-rearing is looked upon warily by some nations, among them the United States and Japan. Critics here see it as "socialistic" and an invasion of family privacy.

In Japan, where there has been strong traditional emphasis on the family as the center of child-rearing, many working mothers now depend on an extended family -grandmothers. aunts, cousins --to help care for the children. But'as in the US, a growing tide of family separation is complicating the problem.

Reports from Monitorcorrespondents in Britain, France, Sweden, Japan, and the Germanys reveal these trends; (1) Despite the proliferation of preschool programs in most Western democracies, less emphasis is placed on organized activities for school-age youth. (2) A growing concern is expressed about unsupervised children -latchkey youngsters -and their potential to get into trouble. (3) Government, at the local as well as national levels, is searching out projects to keep youngsters busy after school, and on vacations and holidays. (4) Although industry is involved in contributing to the support of some day-care programs, on-site company facilities for school aged youngsters are virtually unheard of.

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Among the projects: one in Leicester, in the Midlands, where youngsters -including Gujerati (Indian) youth from nearby schools -are collected in the Belgrade playhouse daily for games, snacks, and cultural activities. The premises, run by a local self-help neighborhood project, come rent free. Families contribute $6.50 per week. This center was set up with a grant from monies collected during the International Year of the Child.

In southeast London -in a multiracial area of Southwark -youngsters attend a latchkey center located right in a housing development. A toy library and a childminding program are housed in the community center. School-age children come after classes and during school vacations and half-term breaks. The center is funded by five central and local government groups and a range of

However, these programs -children's authorities concede -are not typical. One recent government study estimates that as many as 2 1/2 million school-age youngsters in Britain are on their own after school. Another suggests that 225, 000 between five and 10, and 300,000 between 11 and 15, are left at home unsupervised. The numbers spiral during holidays.

The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children deals with about 230,000 cases every month of children put in danger by being left alone.

The Equal Opportunities Commission in Britain estimates that 1 million mothers of school-age children want after-school care; another half million desire some supervision during vacation periods. Working mothers here -according to a Women's Own magazine survey -regularly leave more than half of their 11-to- 16-year-olds on their own. But far fewer admit to lack of care for those under 11.

There is no operating law for school-age care in Britain. Enabling legislation -dating back to the 1944 Education Act -does exist. This would allow local authorities to set up camps. holiday classes, playgrounds, and play centers.

But, according to Jan Loxley, who coordinates research into this for the British Association of Settlements and Social Action Centers (BASSAC), the central government has done little.

The language of the 1944 act was taken almost int from a 1907 act. The Labour government produced a port after World War II, but the party was defeated before anything was done.

The next official study was not until the central pol review staff document in 1978. Current policy of conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is to shy away from government-sponsored day-care centers.

Mrs. Thatcher personally wrote to Miss Loxley, pressing interest in a local group's report on latchkey children. But she said her strategy was to encourage local initiatives and self-help. Her social services secretary Patrick Jenkin, said in late 1979 that for hardship cause such as ill health and poverty, parents need state help. But he stressed that "if we mean what we say about the vast importance of the role of parenthood and parental responsibility, then we must be prepared to argue firmly and convincingly that universal state provision is the wrong road."

Still, the problem of unsupervised youth continues to concern authorities here. Among them, Juvenile Magistrate Ivy Harrison, who points to a changing society which the number of one-parent homes is increasing rapiidly, one in four marriages is breaking up, and countless other adults are living together.

Inflation means that many women simply have work, points out Miss Harrison, who also serves as principal educational welfare officer for the Inner London Educational Authority.

She pinpoints the dilemma: Is it better for a woman stay at home and subject her chiidren to poor conditions or to go to work, be out when her children come home from school, but be able to provide a better environment.

As in the US and elsewhere, a tight economy and efforts to trim public costs are working against latchkey programs in Britain.

For example, authorities say rising fuel costs make them reluctant to keep school buildings open extra houses. For the same reason, some companies are reluctant to institute flexitime so that workers can adjust their schedules to spend more time with their children.

Some British firms are experimenting with "twinning," where one job is done by two workers on alternate weeks. In some cases the pair look after each other|s children. Also there is movement by industry to underwrite day-care costs for employees in certain circumstances. It has only been during the last decade that France has become acutely aware of a need to improve day-care center and recreational facilities for chiidren after school, reports Monitor special correspondent Ed ward Girardet.

It is through the efforts of local municipalities and private alternative groups -rather than the national government -that school-age youngsters are beginning to have better access to organized sports and cultural activities. Youth specialists here maintain that despite a number of effective programs, France still has far to go before its towns can be considered "child friendly."

There are about 16.5 million school-age or working (apprentice) children under 18 in France. School hours vary. Primary youngsters attend classes until 4 p.m. Older pupils in the lycees and secondary schools often stay as late as 6 p.m. Apprentices tend to follow normal 8-to-4 schedules in factories or workshops.

Factories, hospitals, and other shift-work establishments tend to be flexible enough to allow at least one parent to be at home once school is out. Some schools permit pupils to stay on after hours to do homework in supervised classes when parents are at work. Some municipal culture centers also have late afternoon or early evening classes in sculpture, art, dance, etc. for schoolchildren.

But school-free Wednesdays present serious problems for some families. Sports activities have been one solution for filling free time. However, some schools -for reasons of cost -have not chosen to open their playing fields and playgrounds after school.

Meanwhile, several towns have adopted "Wednesday street" programs. Roads are barred to traffic and turned over to children for playing ball, riding bicycles, and roller skating. In the northern French town of Arras, for example, farm animals have been brought to a local park to give youngsters a taste of rural life.

Paris has been the leader in offering extramural activities to children, both after school and during vacations and summer holidays. The city has created some 240 cultural ateliers in all 20 arrondissements. enabling children (and adults), to participate in activities ranging from drawing to marionette theater.

In one atelier in the northwestern part of Paris, sevenyear-old boys and girls work side by side with 80-year-old grandmothers on clay pots under the supervision of a beaux arts instructor. In another of the association's centers on the premises of the Baroque Lycee Henri IV in the Latin Quarter, a professional dancer teaches ballet to young girls. Nearby, a group of teen-agers studies theatrical scenography.

These centers are open all day Wednesday as well as weekday evenings. The cost for schoolchildren is $5 a month. Several other European cities have sent observers to Paris to study the system.

During the summer, many municipalities organize their own youth stay-at-home programs, which include sports, painting, and weekly excursions to rural lakes, castles, and national parks. One town even bought 40 bicycles so children could pedal around free of charge.

French officials point with pride to these activities as a diversion to delinquency. An estimated 130,000 adolescents are brought to court for criminal acts or misdemeanors every year. Authorities express concern that high living expenses in Paris are pushing workers and low-income families into the suburbs where facilities and programs for youth are less available.

Certain juvenile delinquency programs in France try to retain contact with ordinary local activities. For example, the Institution Specialise D'Education Surveille at Bures-Sur-Yevette, outside Paris, has organized summer vacations for its inmates together with nondelinquents. A director says, "It is the third time we have tried the experiment of sending our children [offenders in the 13 -to-16 age group] to a normal holiday camp. There they meet kids their own age and do together the things they like doing. Plaing, walking, sleeping,etc. And it works."

For years it was debated in Sweden whether day care was good for children or bad. Now the debate is simply where and how, explains Monitor staffer Marshall Ingwerson.

Leisure-time centers for schoolchildren, beginning at age seven, are state sponsored. Over 35,000 youth are enrolled.

The focus of Swedish family policy is on equalitiy. And most women, especially younger woman, desire a career, says Sture Henriksson, head of the child-care department at the National Board of Health and Welfare.

"I don't think Swedish women will ever go back to the home for eight, nine years at a time," says Mr. Henriksson. Rather, young mothers will stay home for perhaps three years at the most, he figures, and then resume their careers.

Despite a sharp increase in leisure-time center enrollment (3,000 just 15 years ago), unsupervised youngsters are still a problem in Sweden. An estimated 21,000 come home from school each day and shift for themselves.

Swedes pay for child care on a sliding scale -in accordance with their income. The average family's annual cost for their children's use of a center is

Taxes and employer payroll contributions make up the difference.

There is little evidence of child care in the workplace here. Many parents are concerned that such an arrangement might tie them too closely to employers.

Day-care spaces tend to go wanting in rural areas -where families are often wary of the system and perhaps don't need them as much as in urban regions.

However, metropolitan children in Sweden often have to abide long waiting lists before they are placed. Convenience of urban centers, ability of city parents to pay, and the growing need of two working parents for child care, account for this demand.

Sweden's entire approach to day care is considered the most "progressive" in the world. Many liberals hail it as the wave of the future -for the US and other industrialized nations. Conservatives tend to criticize it for regimenting children and even pulling apart the fabric of family life.

Behind the Swedes' program are relatively new laws, which since l977 have, in effect, eliminated all distinctions between children born in and out of wedlock. Cohabitation is so commonplace that by some estimates one-third of all children born in Sweden today have unwed parents.

This lack of family commitment, say some experts, has pushed more women into the work force. Also, an extremely strong union movement has promoted the entire women's rights cause -including demands for child care.

Women's salaries in Sweden are comparatively high. Swedish women now earn 87 percent of what men earn. In the US, the relative figure is just 60 percent. And the majority of women workers in Sweden are union members.

"Childbirth leave" -which can be taken by either parent for the first six months after a baby is born -is written into Swedish law and underwritten by the government. Now there are even some recommendations that the government should pay a parent to stay home with children. But this idea is opposed by the Social Democrats, who are pushing for the construction of more day-care centers. If Sweden's stance toward government support of child care is the most liberal of any nation, Japan leans heavily in the other direction. The idea that "man should work and woman should stay at home and raise children" still prevails to a significant extent despite the efforts of a fledgling women's liberation movement, reports Monitor contributor Geoffrey Murray from Tokyo.

The majority of Japanese mothers who seek work are motivated by economic factors rather than the desire to pursue a career. (There are few genuine "careers" available for women anyhow.)

Further, many companies frown on women continuing to work after marriage, and certainly after childbearing.

A 1979 Japanese government survey of married women found that 70 percent still thought it was their role to take care of the home. Public opinion -what the neighbors think-still influences Japanese thinking to a large extent. A mother who is regularly away from her home when her young child returns from school might quickly become an object of censure in the neighborhood.

There are an estimated 1 million working mothers in [TEXT OMITTED].

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