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20th Anniversary of the Child Care and Development Block Grant

Washington, DC
October 19, 2010

Thank you, David, for that nice introduction.

I’m pleased to be here to help celebrate 20 years of the Child Care and Development Block Grant. Before I begin, I want to recognize some of the longstanding champions of families and children who worked so hard to see this program enacted.

Marion Wright Edelman could not be here today, but her work as the founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund put child care on the national agenda.

She had help from many great leaders including some who are here today like Helen Blank, Barbara Willer, and Abby Cohen.

Finally, I want to welcome the state and tribal child care administrators from across the country and everyone here this morning who works every day to improve child care in America.

Thanks to all of you, we’ve come a long way in the last 20 years.

I’ve seen this progress firsthand. When I was first elected to the Kansas state legislature in 1986, many people hadn’t come to terms with the fact that most women were working outside the home – even though two-thirds of mothers were in the workforce, including me.

Back then, there weren’t many women in state capitals or the U.S. Congress who could make the case for child care from personal experience. And the men in charge typically didn’t think much of so-called “women’s issues” like child care.

To them, child care wasn’t an employment issue like a 40-hour week or a pension. It was “babysitting.” And they thought babysitting was something “anyone” could do.

They didn’t see the need for a trained provider or a low staff-child ratio. They thought serious health and safety standards were unnecessary. They didn’t understand why a child care provider needed a living wage. Some of them would have been fine sitting every child in America in front of a TV and stopping there.

But there were also women and men who believed children’s development was crucial. And they believed that if you cared about child development, you needed to care about the quality of the environment where they spent time every day.

They knew that if we wanted children to develop emotionally and cognitively and grow up to become engaged citizens and productive workers, we needed to engage and nurture them during their early years.

And with their support, leaders in Congress like Senators Dodd, Hatch, and Kennedy worked in a bipartisan effort to make the Child Care and Development Block Grant a reality.

Over the years, the Child Care and Development Block Grant has supported child care for millions of low-income children. It focused states, tribes, and territories’ attention on protecting children’s health and safety. It provided dedicated resources to promote quality.

As time has passed, we’ve learned that investing in the healthy development of our children is one of the best investments we can make. Study after study has shown that children in high quality early learning and development programs have a solid foundation for success in school and life.

The President and First Lady understand the importance of these early years.

That’s why over the last two years, we’ve undertaken an ambitious agenda to give our children a better start in life.

The reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program helped us sign up 2.6 million previously uninsured children for CHIP and Medicaid last year and made coverage available to more than 4 million additional children.

The Recovery Act is investing over $4 billion in child care and early learning and supporting an estimated 220,000 child care slots to help families through the recession.

The First Lady’s Let’s Move Campaign has set a goal of ending childhood obesity within a generation.

The Affordable Care Act prohibits new plans from denying children coverage because of their preexisting medical conditions and requires them to cover the preventive treatments, screenings, and immunizations recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

And the President’s 2011 budget doubles the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit for middle-class families, expands affordable, high-quality child care services for military families at centers in the U.S. and overseas, and increases funding for the Child Care and Development Fund by $1.6 billion.

Combined, these reforms and investments will provide critical support for children and families across the country.

But while resources are important, our focus goes well beyond dollars.

Our vision is that all children should have access to affordable, high-quality early care and education that meets their educational, emotional, and developmental needs and helps prepare them for success in school and life.

Families aren’t one-size-fits-all and their child care and early education needs aren’t either. But whether children are supported by a subsidy or their parents pay for care out of pocket; whether they’re in a child care center, Head Start, a family child-care home, or a school; whether they need full-time care or part-day preschool – every one of them needs a high quality program.

Many of our children are already in high-quality programs that give them the nurturing and skills they need. But too many others are in programs that don’t meet the high standards for quality care.

That’s why we’ve undertaken an aggressive agenda to improve quality in Head Start. These quality objectives are clearly expressed in the new proposed Head Start regulations we just released. We believe that if a Head Start program doesn’t get results, it should have to reapply for grant money, whether it’s run by a nonprofit, a city, or a school district. And we hope many of you will comment on this proposed rule, so we can make it as effective and fair as possible.

When it comes to child care, we need to keep that same focus on quality and effectiveness.

As you all know, the Child Care and Development Block Grant is due to be reauthorized. If Congress takes up a reauthorization bill, it could provide an important opportunity to address health and safety requirements in child care, take overdue steps to improve quality standards, support the child care workforce, and reinforce our efforts to fight waste and fraud.

The 1.6 million children who get help from Child Care and Development Block Grant would benefit, and so would the over 10 million other children in child care.

But we can’t wait for a new law to pass. In our department, we’re already moving ahead.

We’re helping states establish Quality Rating Improvement Systems that will give parents information about the quality of their child’s setting, and give providers information about best practices.

We’re supporting improved workforce training. Whether it’s the center director or a caregiver who is rocking your infant to sleep, skilled providers make all the difference when it comes to high quality care.

We’re asking states to measure their progress improving child care health and safety standards, early learning curricula, and provider training. Just as hospitals have reported for years on what they’re doing to meet quality benchmarks in Medicare and Medicaid, now states will report on their progress to improve child care every year.

We’re also strengthening coordination across government.

In August, Education Secretary Duncan and I launched an Interagency Policy Board so we can coordinate programs that we administer in our department like Head Start, Home Visiting, and the Child Care and Development Block Grant with Department of Education programs like preschool and infant-toddler special education.

We’ve joined forces with the Department of Defense to raise the quality of community child care programs that serve military families. This will bring high quality child care programs to neighborhoods across the country.

And we’ve already awarded Recovery Act funds to 45 states, DC, and territories, to establish early childhood education Advisory Councils. These councils are charged with creating one seamless early childhood system so Head Start, pre-K, and child care programs all work at the same high level—for example, in instruction, professional development, or identifying whether a child has special needs.

Finally, we’ve launched a new initiative, the Early Learning Communities, which documents and promotes the best ways to create uninterrupted services from before birth through age eight, track children’s well-being, constantly improve quality, and make sure these steps carry forward when children start school.

We are committed to weaving together our programs into a seamless, high-quality early learning and development system, where every family can choose the setting that works best for their children and no family has to compromise on quality.

Just as high schools aim to prepare students for college, early childhood development programs should be designed with an eye towards the skills our children will need to succeed in their next step in life. Quality child care is essential to helping our children succeed and to keeping our country competitive.

I look forward to working with Congress, states, parents, teachers, providers, and all of you to strengthen the Child Care and Development Block Grant and improve child across the country. We’ve learned a lot in the last decades, and I’m committed to building on those successes and ensuring that the next decades are ones where we build brighter futures for all of our children.

Thank you. And now, Joan, I’ll turn the program over to you.