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5 Future Federal Policy Formation Affecting Children and Their Families As stated at the beginning of this report, the panel undertook its study of federal decision making affecting children and their families as a basis for creating a more sophisticated understanding of how federal policy toward this target group is formulated; identifying conditions and constraints that characterize the federal policy formation process and that are likely to influence the content of new proposals in the near future; and exploring how future participants on behalf of children and their families might more effectively influence federal decision making. The panel's analysis of the case studies produced some interesting insights concerning the dynamics of federal policy making in the context of the Special Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), the Federal Interagency Day Care Requirements, and the child care tax deduction/credit. Two major questions remain: 1. What have we learned from our study about the conditions and constraints inherent in federal policy making toward children and families that is likely to influence the content of policy proposals in the near future? 2. What have we learned about how participants in federal decision making in general can most effectively influence the process on behalf of children and families? In the 1980s, Congress and the Reagan administration will face the problems of high inflation, increasing unemployment, declining productivity, uncertain energy supplies at predictably higher prices, and severe inter- national tensions. Most of the domestic policy alter- natives under discussion propose to constrain program 72

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73 growth, to limit government expenditures, to substitute categorical programs with block grants to the states, and to improve the productivity or effectiveness of government involvement where it already exists. With the possible exception of youth employment and training initiatives. few if any new proposals are directly focused on improving the well-being of children and families, either through the establishment of new programs or the refocusing of existing ones, despite the continued calls of children's representatives both within and outside government. What, then, are the prospects for children's policy in the 1980s? To a significant extent they are shaped by the existing federal response to children's needs and the process that has produced these programs. As in other areas of social policy, policies and programs for children have evolved piecemeal over time. As the case studies presented here suggest, they have involved a number of decision points and intermediary actions. They are not the result of any coherent process of contemplation, debate, and choice. Responsibility for policies and programs for children and families remains widely distributed among many con- gressional committees and administrative agencies. As the case studies demonstrate, the House Education and Labor Committee, the House Ways and Means Committee, the Senate Agriculture Committee, the Senate Finance Commit- tee, and the Senate Committee on Labor and Public Welfare are just a few of the diverse groups in Congress respons- ible for the interests and well-being of children and families. Similarly, in the executive branch, many agencies in the departments of Agriculture, Labor, Justice, the Interior, Health and Human Services, and Education operate programs for this target group, all with little coordination or even communication. Indeed, the recent establishment of the new U.S. Department of Education represents a further splintering of executive branch responsibility for children's policies and programs. Although the panel does not suggest that this widely decentralized structure of control and responsi- bility for children's policies and programs is undesir- able, we do suggest that there is no central high-level agent charged with coordinating federal initiatives on behalf of this target group. Policy making for children and families is generally influenced by a large number of organized interests representing service providers, professional groups, labor unions, parents, researchers, the poor, blacks,

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74 Hispanics, women, and even selected groups of children themselves. As we have observed, these groups promote a variety of interests and perspectives that sometimes agree, but more often than not disagree, over policy objectives. On the occasions when they have worked together they have enhanced their positions--for example, the alliance between farm interests and antipoverty groups in the WIC case. When they have worked at cross-purposes, these organized interests have frequently diminished the political strength of all. As a result of this process, children's policies and programs, unlike the universal programs that have emerged for older Americans, veterans, and the unemployed, have tended to be selective responses to selective needs. Federal attention has focused on the problems of child abuse, inadequate nutrition, learning disabilities, sudden infant death syndrome, juvenile delinquency, teenage pregnancy, foster care, and the special needs of handi- capped children, to name just a few. Similarly, programs such as Aid to Families with Dependent Children, the Supplemental Security Income Program, and the Work Incentives Program have helped address the income and unemployment problems of families with children. Never- theless, more comprehensive policy proposals--the Family Assistance Plan and the Comprehensive Child Development Act, for example--have consistently failed. As Steiner points out, "the children's cause can boast of few absolute successes n (Steiner, 1976:240). The reason is probably not that America is not a child-loving nation, and it goes beyond the fact that children cannot vote, lobby, or be elected to Congress. The reasons are far more complex. First, there is no fundamental agree- ment concerning the appropriate responsibility of govern- ment to intervene in the privacy of the family to ensure that children are adequately cared for and that their physical, emotional, and developmental needs are met. In a democratic society that places a high priority on the integrity of family life and that worries about the possibility of state control over childrearing, disagree- ment over the appropriate limits of public intervention in parent-child relations is inevitable and appropriate. As we observed time and again in the case studies, this ambivalence, although understandable, leaves no basis for legitimizing child development and family relationships as an item on the public rather than the private agenda-- except in clear cases in which children are orphaned, abandoned, physically or mentally handicapped, or abused.

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75 Moreover, it discourages far-reaching designs, such as the proposal for the Family Assistance Plan or the Comprehensive Child Development Act. Second, there is no focal point within government on either the legislative or administrative side to unify and strengthen federal responsibility for children's policies and programs. The Subcommittee on Aging, Family and Human Services of the Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources would seem a logical body within Congress to provide leadership in matters of children's policy. Yet because children are a part of every congressional constituency and because the responsibility for nutrition, welfare, education, health, and human development is distributed across several standing committees, the sub- committee has never managed to establish itself as a legislative focal point. In addition, because neither it nor its predecessor, the Subcommittee on Children and Youth, has ever achieved any important legislative victories, it has failed to develop a strong identity and reputation. Similarly, the establishment of the Children's Bureau in 1912, the Office of Child Development in 1969, and the Administration for Children, Youth, and Families in 1976 were all intended to provide executive branch leadership. They have each failed to do so. This failure is in part due to the wide distribution of responsibility for children's programs and research across the federal bureaucracy and in part to the inability of this long line of child-focused agencies to attract and hold key personnel and programs--with the exception of Head Start. Of all the major federal program initiatives on behalf of children and families--Aid to Families with Dependent Children; the Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnosis, and Treatment Program; the School Lunch Program or any of the child nutrition programs; and Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act or any of the major education programs, to name just a few--none is housed in the Administration for Children, Youth, and Families or was in its predecessor, the Office of Child Development. These agencies have seldom taken the initiative in proposing major new programs for the federal agenda or in restructurizing existing policies and programs to improve their effectiveness and efficiency. As we observed, the Office of Child Development's drive for the Comprehensive Child Development Act was vetoed by Nixon. Subsequently, the agency suffered from a lack of credibility and respect

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76 among decision makers and children's advocates. The Administration for Children, Youth, and Families has yet to recover. A major consequence is that no mechanism currently exists for formulating federal policy toward children and families at the high level. In fact, since the failure of the Mondale-Brademus bill, there has been almost no high-level federal policy making toward this target group. Activity has centered at the middle and low levels, primarily the latter. The vast majority of governmental actors interested in the well-being of children participate at the low level. Their primary responsibility is to implement and monitor programs that have been designed and established by others. Indeed, even if the President were to propose a dramatic new comprehensive family policy approach--as Carter did in 1976--no vehicle exists for translating that directive into operating programs. The result is that such proposals further energize the existing unorganized scramble of governmental and nongovernmental representa- tives for children and families. Third, children's representatives inside and outside government have too often lacked an adequate understanding of the dynamics of the policy formation process and how most effectively to influence decision making on behalf of children and their families. The disarray character- istic of federal activity is inevitable in light of the fragmented approach traditionally taken by legislators, bureaucrats, and nongovernmental interests alike. They continually call for more programs and larger appropria- tions, when in fact more may not mean better. In so doing they not only compete for scarce resources with advocates for the aging, the handicapped, farmers, and the unemployed, but they also compete among themselves. Lack of coordination among children's advocates and their failure to establish priorities are not the only hin- drances to the children's cause. Participants in federal policy formation have frequently failed to comprehend the governmental decision-making process itself. Specifi- cally, they have not recognized that policy outcomes depend to a large extent on the mechanisms by which they are formulated, that there are few governmental actors well-positioned to enhance the children's cause, and that strategic opportunities and levers for change vary according to the nature of the policy issue and the participants involved. Moreover, few participants, regardless of their ideological or political affiliations,

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77 recognize their position in the decision-making process and understand how they can most effectively exert influence. In sum, the forecast for federal policies affecting children and their families does not look radically different from that of the past decade. Short of a major upheaval in social values, no theory or ideology is likely to emerge that will clarify the appropriate place for children's policy and programs on the public agenda. Short of a major reorganization of the congressional committee system and the agency structure in the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services, coherent federal leadership on matters of children's policy is unlikely very soon--and probably not desirable. Hence, the primary means available for improving (without necessarily expanding) public policies toward children and their families is for concerned governmental and nongovernmental participants to improve their understanding of the policy formation process and to develop better strategies for participation. To this end the Panel for the Study of the Policy Formation Process has directed its efforts.