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NEW YORK SPENDS ON ITS CHILDREN, BUT CARE IS WEAK

New York State isn't taking care of its children.
In a comprehensive look at how the nation is coping with increasing demands for child care, the current issue of Working Mother magazine uses a state-by-state comparison to assess the quality of institutional and family programs.

New York, the report's authors conclude, is in a holding pattern.

"Nearly a million kids in this state will need state-subsidized child care in 1997; so far, only 110,000 receive it," the report states. "Gov. Pataki's commitment to child care continues to be weak, but an infusion of federal funds will probably help the state expand the supply of care this year."

Compiled by three of the magazine's editors with a panel of child care experts from such organizations as the Children's Defense Fund and children's advocates, the report grades the child care establishment on quality, safety, availability and commitment.

Quality is measured by the ratio of adults to children, maximum number of children per unit and caretakers' training. Safety is determined by supervision, group size, immunization requirements, playground surfaces, sanitary conditions, access to health care and inspections. Public investment and the number of resources and referrals determine availability. Commitment is detected by what, if any, priority child care has within the political establishment.

New York spends more on child care and cares for more children than its neighbor Connecticut, which made the Top 10 in this survey. But it falters in commitment.

Connecticut invests only 48 cents for every $100 collected in state taxes while New York allocates 90 cents for every $100. But Connecticut has pledged $10 million in new funds for early education, has opened up 2,500 slots in prekindergarten programs and promises to increase programs by 2000.

New York, with 1.6 million children under age 6, has 225 accredited child care centers and 83 licensed homes. "New York funds many child care programs, but funding did not increase by much this year," the report states.

New York got a pat on the back for expanding the state child care tax credit in 1996, but the authors added that Pataki's recommendation that child care aid be available only to parents with kids under 6 would be a blow.

If New York is deficient in its commitment to child care, Idaho, Louisiana and Mississippi are delinquent. These states spend from 4 to 17 cents per $100 on programs that rank from poor to mediocre.

Besides Connecticut, the Top 10 states are California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin.

Betty Holcomb, Catherine Cartwright, Shaun Dreisbach and Anne L. Fritz, the Working Mother editors who compiled the report, say pressure to meet the nation's growing child care needs may cause states to trade off quality to expand quantity. But for now, they conclude, important changes are taking place and many of them are positive.

The July/August issue of Working Mother has been on newsstands elsewhere for more than a week. The Buffalo distributor may get around to delivering them soon.
New York didn't score well in another study, this one focusing on child-support enforcement. The federal General Accounting Office reported last week that parents are failing to make court-ordered child support payments in four out of five cases. Nationwide, custodial parents collect less than 20 percent of the child support they are owed.

According to the GAO survey, New York has a collection rate of about 15 percent. Even the best rate, 40 percent in Minnesota, is not impressive. Indiana, with 10 percent success rate, has the worst record. California, in which more than 4 million children depend on court-ordered support, collects in only 14 percent of the delinquent cases.

Federal welfare grants are tied to states' enforcement efforts, and the federal government has spent about $2 billion to help states computerize systems for tracking delinquent parents. Despite that, only 12 states have brought their systems up to speed.

The law says states must be in "substantial compliance" with federal collection standards, which means compliance in 75 percent of the cases reviewed. No state is even close.

There has been some improvement with total collections increasing from $8 billion in 1992 to $12 billion in 1996. The gain was offset by the fact that the number of support orders also increased.

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