It takes a lot of chutzpah for a member of the president’s cabinet to issue a press release claiming that a failure is a success. Yet that’s what the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) did.
In addressing the program of early learning, Secretary Sebelius called Head Start “a key part of the Obama Administration’s strategic focus on early learning….Research clearly shows that Head Start positively impacts the school readiness of low-income children,” she claimed.
It helps socialize youngsters. But a recent major study by HHS concluded that “benefits to students of Head Start are largely absent by the first grade for the program population as a whole.” Five thousand 3- and 4-year-olds were tested. Therefore, Head Start’s goal to boost the readiness for school of low-income children gets an F for failure or at best a D-. Why hasn’t the news media reported this?
Why is the president proposing more than $8 billion for Head Start for 2012? Spending proposed for the breadth of federal children and family programs in 2012 totals a whopping $50.7 billion. A statement by the Administration for Children and Families said the president’s budget “places a high priority on early childhood education—providing increased funding for child care…” So, that’s the answer. Entitlement growth is a “high priority,” no matter how big the budget deficit is.
It would be too much to expect a federal child-care program to have its magic spooned out by Mary Poppins or dispensed by Maria Von Trapp. But, that’s not the point. Isn’t the realm of child care essentially parents’ responsibility, with help from other family members? Apparently not for those who believe that no parent is as responsible or knowledgeable as the state.
In this mindset, the nation’s parents, at least in low-income groups, can’t be trusted to do what is right for their children. Certainly irresponsible parents exist at every socio-economic level. But the “great entitlement expectation” is well fixed in place.
The administration obviously is ignoring the Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigation, which found Head Start Centers in six states and the District of Columbia were engaged in fraud by enrolling kids from unqualified families. It really doesn’t matter that much, because the new research shows the program has failed to prepare children for school anyway.
Head Start programs don’t harm children. But one can see they are little more than a grand baby-sitting benefit for poor families at taxpayer expense. The $50.7 billion is above and beyond such federal help programs as Unemployment Insurance and food stamps.
We are a caring country, especially when the welfare of children is involved. That’s much of why the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) has grown in support as well as complexity over the years. The expenditures to serve low-income folks have built a large voter constituency, as well.
The following is an overview of a few parts of the beneficence of your $50.7 billion in taxes asked to be spent by the Administration for Families and Children:
As part of the Recovery (stimulus) Act, the AFC has funded Early Head Start slots by 48,000 children—“increasing the size of the program by 75 percent—and funding an additional 13,000 Head Start slots. Early Head Start is a program for infants, toddlers and pregnant women through Parent Child Centers, Child Development Centers, and Migrant Head Start programs. “The proactive promotion of healthy child development and family functioning,” says the ACF, “begins before conception and continues prenatally, upon birth, and through the early years.”
Another program under the AFC is Child Support Enforcement, as it is known, asking for $2.4 billion over 10 years. This program requires states to “establish access and visitation arrangements as a means of promoting father engagement in their children’s lives” including incentive payments. ACF says that this now is “a very cost-effective program” because it collected $4.78 cents in child support for every dollar “invested in the program.” That means enforcement will cost only $600 million or so.
ACF, with cooperation of the IRS, collects the support money. Men who are delinquent on child-support payments are often arrested and squeezed for the payments due. But, according to the National Council for Children’s Rights, about 5 to 6 million children are denied access to their fathers by women defying court orders for visitation. In black families, nearly 70 percent of black children live with a single parent, as do nearly 25 percent of white kids.
What a shame. But how much of the problem is the government’s responsibility? Every state must now operate a program for enforcement techniques for child support that must meet federal requirements. Close to $3 billion a year is collected in alleged delinquent child support from federal income tax refund offsets under the Federal Offset Program.
Another AFC project, Foster Care and adoption assistance, seeks $2.9 billion over 10 years, to try to reduce the number of children in the foster care system. Nothing wrong with this intent. For family violence prevention and a violence hotline, $140 million is sought.
Certainly, no one wants to shun the truly needy, the homeless, or victims of violence or human trafficking. Yet the Administration for Children and Families budget overview says in listing its first priority: “Growing up in poverty…diminishes the opportunity of children to reach their full potential.” While sometimes true, many are the stories of poor who pulled themselves out of poverty without the helpful harnesses that come with government handouts.
Take, for example, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. She grew up in meager circumstances in Jim Crow Alabama. What makes a person extraordinary? Rice answers: “the way they take on their circumstances.” And she wasn’t the only black person from her childhood neighborhood to succeed. Many university administrators, a prominent academic, and a national journalist climbed their way up from poverty, she writes in her recent book. They drew on strength and values and principles, she said.
But most of those values may have been lost in the government shuffle, as it takes 1,398 federal employees to “care” for children and families.