April 16, 2014

What About Universal Pre-‘Pre-K’?

by Bonnie Eissner

In Our Hands: The Struggle for U.S. Child Care Policy by Elizabeth Palley, J.D., Ph.D.This spring, Elizabeth Palley, J.D., Ph.D., an associate professor at the School of Social Work, will publish her first book, In Our Hands: The Struggle for U.S. Child Care Policy (NYU Press, 2014), which she cowrote with Corey S. Shdaimah, L.L.M., Ph.D., an associate professor at the University of Maryland School of Social Work. Long interested in the issue of quality child care, Dr. Palley felt compelled to pen the book six years ago when she became a mom and experienced the challenges of finding good care for her baby. “All of a sudden, I was trying to figure out how do I put together child care so that I [could] go back to work and [asking] why is there no infrastructure for this,” she recalls.

In their quest to understand why the United States lags so far behind Western Europe in supporting early child care, Dr. Palley and Dr. Shdaimah interviewed advocates, researchers and others who have been working to address the issue.

A polarized Congress and a child care industry that profits from selective access (much like the healthcare industry) are significant obstacles to universal early child care, Dr. Palley explains. Perhaps even more important, though, she and Dr. Shdaimah heard from the advocates about their overburdened constituency—working parents of young children. “You’re getting people at the busiest, most difficult times in their lives,” Dr. Palley says, “and then when they’re done with it, they’re not invested in the changes.”

Dr. Palley is heartened by the current push for universal pre-kindergarten, particularly in New York City, but notes that “it doesn’t address the full need.” She hopes her book will spark wider consideration of government support for universal early child care, which, she says, “is not really part of the discussion.”

This piece appeared in the Erudition 2014 edition.
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