Millions of children found 'at risk' for lack of love, stimulation, medical care

April 12, 1994|By New York Times News Service

NEW YORK -- A wide-ranging, three-year study of young American children to be released today confirms some of society's worst fears: millions of infants and toddlers are so deprived of medical care, loving supervision and intellectual stimulation that their growth into healthy and responsible adults is threatened.

The plight of the nation's youngest and most vulnerable children, the report says, is a result of many parents' being overwhelmed by poverty, teen-age pregnancy, divorce or work.

The report, prepared for the Carnegie Corporation of New York by a panel of eminent politicians, doctors, educators and business executives, paints a bleak picture of disintegrating families, persistent poverty, high levels of child abuse and inadequate health care and child care.

The United States ranks near the bottom of the industrialized nations in providing such services as universal health care, subsidized child care and extensive leaves from work for families with children under age 3, despite recent scientific evidence that these early years are critical in the development of the human brain.

While several reports in the last few years have sounded the alarm about very young children in the United States, the Carnegie group hopes that its accumulation of evidence, its members' prominence and its calls for individual as well as government action may prompt some change.

"Collectively, we all have to say, 'Enough,' " said Judith E. Jones, director of the National Center for Children in Poverty who was one of the panel's 30 members.

Other members include Dr. Jonas Salk; Thomas H. Kean, the former governor of New Jersey, and Owen Bradford Butler, chairman of Northern Telecom, one of world's largest telecommunications companies.

The panel had included Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley, and Isabel V. Sawhill, associate director of the Office of Management and Budget, before their appointments to the Clinton administration.

The group's recommendations include offering parent education in school and discouraging teen-agers from becoming parents; guaranteeing quality child care through a combination of government and business support; overhauling the health care system to provide a standard package of services like immunization for young children and prenatal care, and mobilizing communities to examine the services available locally for young children and to offer those services in one place, as settlement houses did in the early 1900s.

The report, "Starting Points: Meeting the Needs of Our Youngest Children," was based on a review of scientific data and scholarly studies and an examination of statistical indicators of children's status in this country like the number living in single-parent homes.

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