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Journal Issue: Caring for Infants and Toddlers Volume 11 Number 1 Spring/Summer 2001

Federal and State Efforts to Improve Care for Infants and Toddlers
Jane Knitzer

Summary

Can government help mothers and fathers manage their economic and parenting responsibilities? Should it try? This article examines how federal and state governments currently act as partners with the parents of four million babies who are born each year in the United States. Viewing public policy as a tool that expresses the priorities of society, this article summarizes the leading ways that policy touches the lives of infants and toddlers—from the tax code to mandates for family leave, to cash benefits and subsidies, to funding for direct service programs. Several conclusions emerge from this detailed catalog:

  • Significant federal policies focus on the economics of family life, helping low-income families meet their children's basic physical needs and allowing affluent families to shelter income for their children's benefit.
  • Far less policy attention addresses the challenges that parents face as caregivers trying to ensure that their infants are safe, nurtured, and encouraged each day.
  • Child care, despite its importance for children's development, is seen by policymakers primarily as a service that enables parents to work. Opportunities to promote child development through high-quality care, therefore, go untapped.
  • Some states have creatively combined federal and state resources to provide new services for infants and caregivers, expand successful programs, and build linkages across programs and agencies.

The author stresses the importance of maximizing the benefits of current federal policies that reduce the harm of child poverty, and urges policymakers to embed a developmental perspective in new state and federal programs and policies that touch the lives of infants, toddlers, and their families.