Clinton’s Thoughts on Child Care

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By Jennifer Durrence

President Clinton's comments at the White House Conference on Child Care last October offer a unique glimpse into his thinking about youth issues. Here are excerpts:

This is a happy day at the White House, first for all the people in the administration and all those who have worked with them for months and months and months to help this day come to pass and second, and even more important, from my point of view, this is a happy day because I have been listening to the First Lady talk about this for more than 25 years now and it may be that I will finally be able to participate in at least a small fraction of what I have been told for a long time I should be doing.

There are many things that are necessary for that to be done, but clearly two of them are, first, people in this country have to be able to succeed at work and at home in raising their children. And if we put people in the position of essentially having to chose one over the other, our country is going to be profoundly weakened.

The great trick we have with all great social questions in America is that we know that government can't solve them alone, either because we don't have the resources or the capacity. How do we have grassroots, community-based partnerships that still, when the day is over, add up to a system that serves everybody instead of just makes nice, touching stories we can all tell each other at seminars til kingdom come.

A lot of people are just plain old-fashioned ignorant about what's involved in being an effective successful child care worker. They would be surprised at the average educational level of child care workers in America and the average pay. And I think that we ought to start trying to find ways that every community and every state can honor people in this work.

I have been struggling to understand this issue. We all have our little epiphanies in life about these matters, but Hillary had been talking to me about child care for years, and one day I was running for governor, more than well over a decade ago, I used to make it habit in every election season of going to the earliest plant gate in my state, because the workers came to work between 4:30 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. And even the vote-hungriest politicians wouldn't get up that early. So I always had them all to myself.

And I never will forget, one day I came home and I told Hillary, I said, "You won't believe what happened to me at a quarter to 5 this morning." It was a Campbell's soup plant in North Arkansas and this pickup truck rolled up. And as often happened with the husbands and wives, one was taking the other to work and they would come up in the dark and kiss each other goodbye. And so this pickup truck came up and this lady leaned over and kissed her husband goodbye and opened the door. And the light came on, and inside were three children under the age of five.

And so I went over and talked to the young man when his wife went in to work  at a quarter to 5 a.m. I said, "What are you doing with these kids and how do you do this?" He said, "Well, we've got to get them up every morning at a quarter to 4. And we dress them up." And he said, "I keep them as long as I can but I have to be at work at 7. So I had to find somebody who would take care of them at 6:30." Three kids under five. But, he said, "We both have to work."