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January 17, 1971 - Image 4

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1971-01-17

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John Espenshade
and Lewis Hlays

" .9

Night Editor: Robert Kraftowitz

Sunday, January 17, 1971

ixon's Conference on Children: A study in cA


ONCE A DECADE, since 1909, the Pre-
sident of the United States has
convened a national conference to
assess and make recommendations on
the needs of children.
Obliging this tradition, Richard Nix-
on opened the seventh such confer-
ence last December 13. To Washington
came somer .E .I d oe Q 0larcred
with the task of blueprinting federal
legislative policy affecting the lives of
children in the Seventies. Stephen
Hess, appointed by Nixon as chairman
of the conference, had asked for action
proposals, concrete recommendations
designed for implementation, and the
delegates seemed eager for the chal-
As planned, the delegates were split
up into 25 forums dealing with various
aspects of child development including
health, learning, parents and famil-
ies, communities and environments,
and rights and responsibilities. Work-
ing papers with specific recommenda-
tions included had been prepared in
advance of the conference, and were
to be . the focal points for small work-
shop discussions and debates. The ideas
surfacing in the discussion would be in-
corporated into final proposals.
FROM THE outset, however, organiza-
tional difficulties and factional

The dissidents, still unsatisfied,
charged the administration with cal-
culated aversion to a plenary session,
for fear it would result in nationally
broadcast criticism of Nixon's domestic
and foreign policies. A call for a col-
lective session went out, in order that
an entire group of delegates c o u 1 d
focus on the, reordering of Federal
priorities and the reallocation of re-
sources to meet the needs of Amer-
THE PLENARY session finally t o o k
place - without the blessing of the
White House staff and the rump ses-
sion was attended by clearly more than
half of the delegates.
Those delegates passed resolutions
urging total immediate withdrawal of
U.S. forces from Indochina, condemn-
ing Nixon's lack of urgency in dealing
with poverty and racism at home, and
advocating a ban on funds for the
SST project.
Sweeping resolutions were also pass-
ed calling for food, clothing, shelter
and health and education services to
be automatically provided by the gov-
ernment to all of America's 55 mil-
lion children under 14 years of age.
Another sore point for delegates was
their experience with the smaller work-
shop sessions - some of which were

the concern of the delegates that the
finished papers they submitted would,
like those of their predecessors, be
Too, it was suspected that in work-
shops, recommendations should be
realistic and feasible, i.e., palatable to
the Nixon administration, in order to
have some chance of implementation.
(Stephen Hess had in fact suggest-
ed at a strategy session held a year be-
fore the conference that one of the
reasons the 1960 Conference on Child-
ren failed to see its recommendations
become reality was because it came at
the end of the Eisenhower era. He
further suggested that since the Nixon
government could endure for e i g h t
years, it would increase the likelihood
of implementing the 1970 recommenda-
tions if they were palatable to the
Nixon administration.)
DESPITE THE constraints, pessimism
and confusion of shuttling to and
from the three Washington hotels in
which the workshops were being held,
the delegates conscientiously labored
over many of the working papers to
come up with viable proposals. Those
who remained unhappy went sight-
seeing, Christmas shopping, or j o b
The recommendations contained in
the final reports, to be published this
spring, will probably not differ substan-
tially from those in the working papers.
The following major recommendations
and overriding concerns of the dele-
gates were selected during balloting at
the close of the session as having top
-Comprehensive family-orient-
ed child development programs, In-
cluding health services, day care
and early childhood education;
-The development of programs
to eliminate the racism which crip-
ples all children;
-Re-ordering of national priori-
ties beginning with a guaranteed
family income adequate for the
needs of children;
-A federally financed national
child health care program w hi e h
assures comprehensive care for all
-A system of early identifica-
tion of children with special needs
and which delivers prompt and
appropriate treatment;
-Establishment of a child ad-
vocacy agency financed by the
Federal government and other
sources with full ethnic, cultural,
racial and sexual representation;
-Re-design of education to ach-
ieve individualized, humanized child-
centered learning.
-Establishment of a citizen-com-
munity action group to implement
the recommendations of the confer-
portant and urgent as they are, do
not vary radically from those made by
other presidentially convened bodies,
notably the Joint Commission on Men-
tal Health of Children and the 1969
White House conference on Nutrition
and Hunger. And perhaps therein lies
part of their convincing strength.
To insure that the recommendations
of the conference and the documenta-
tion of their urgency are not passed
over, one forum dealt specifically with
strategies for bringing about the im-
plementation of the proposals. In addi-
tion, six regional meetings are to be

held in Omaha next month as a follow
White House Conference on Chil-
dren will ultimately be decided on the
basis of those proposals which become
reality. In part, the follow-up process
may well serve as a catalyst to facili-
tate that process and the prestige of
the conference should lend weight to
the recommendations which emerged
from it.
Hopefully, amid charges of delegate
manipulation and rigged conference
procedures, the plight of the hungry,
sick, or neglected child was not ob-
scured; in addition to pinpointing
goals for immediate action the confer-
ence should have dramatized to the



On holding






-Daily-Terry McCarthy
"If nothing else, the conference should have dramatized to
the nation the need for a total commitment to our children.
'It's time to put people into the lives of our children, and
children into the lives of people,' said one delegate."

THE STATED objectives of the White
H o u s e Conference on Children
(WHCC) were to "protect and benefit
children today, and project what ac-
tions will be necessary to improve the
quality of life for children during the
coming decade."
For this purpose, delegates repre-
senting a broad range of professions
and backgrounds from across the Unit-
ed States gathered in Washington,
D.C., to discuss the current plight of
the 55 million children in the United
States below the age of 14 and suggest
desperately needed improvements in
our national policy concerning chil-
dren - all in the notable absence of
It was quickly discovered by many
delegates and forum members that the
conference was designed to be for
children, about children, but not of
Although 20 per cent of the delegates
were under 24, very few had b e e n
chosen who were under 18. This type
of age segregation was decried by the
noted social psychologist, Dr. Urie
Bronfenbrenner, chairman of one of
the conference forums, as "lying at the
root of the growing alienation, apathy,
and confusion among the younger gen-
Yet younger children were specific-
ally not included. In fact, while former
White House conferences had d e a 1 t
with "Children and Youth" this one
was divided into two sections. The con-
ference on Youth, which will deal bas-
ically with the 14-to 21-year-old range,
and where more youthful delegates are
likely to attend to speak their minds
and embarrass the Nixon administra-
tion, is now scheduled to be held in
late March and April in distant Estes
Park, Colorado, far from the sight of
the Washington press corps.
This change further substantiated
the accusations of so many of the dele-
gates that planners of the conference
had deliberately excluded younger rep-
resentatives to the WHCC.
FOR TWO Ann Arbor youths, this ap-
parent attempt by the conference
staff to prevent younger people from
marticinatinv in the WWCC Dresented

and took a bus f r o m Ann Arbor to
David and Liz immediately sought
o u t those conference staff members
who might be able to gain admittance
for them into the conference and ex-
plained their situation. Directed to a
"volunteers" lounge, they were asked
to wait, and run errands for the con-
ference staff. They were promised that
their predicament would be explored.
More than six hours later, at 4 o,clock
that afternoon, they were told t h e y
shouldn't have come to the conference,
and to "go home and come back to-
The White House staff showed a to-
tal lack of concern for the welfare of
the two children - no questions were
asked about lodging, transportation, or
food for two youngsters 600 miles away
from home. This was ironic in light of
the standard excuse for not including
younger delegates in the first place -
"they might not be able to take care
of themselves and might get hit by a
bus or molested in Washington."
THE NEXT DAY David and Liz again
met only resistance to their at-
tempts to be admitted to the confer-
ence. This was to be the case through-
out the remainder of the conference.
All their attempts through official
channels failed.
By this time, however, many dele-
gates had become aware of the plight
of the two youths, and David and Liz
were invited by two forum chairmen to
attend their discussions and work-
shops. They did this and found that

the delegates of the forums "listened
to us" and treated the two as equals.
Dave and Liz were not the only two
children at the conference. One forum
leader, after circumventing consider-
able opposition from Chairman Hess
and his staff, brought 30 youths be-
tween the ages of 14-17 into his dis-
cussions as "special consultants."
That leader, Howard James, Pulitzer
Prize-winning correspondent for t h e
Christian Science Monitor, said he took
it upon himself to include children be-
cause they were, simply, necessary.
James stressed that no o n e knows
and better understands the plight of
children better than children them-
selves. At the end of the week, he call-
ed the participation of the children "a
major contributing factor to the suc-
cess of our forum."
EVEN IF THE 1970 White House con-
ference on children has no imme-
diate impact on our national policy to-
ward children, it should have at least
signaled to this country the increasing
segregation and alienation of our chil-
dren from the rest of our society.
"It is time," one forum leader .said,
"to bring the people back into the lives
of children, and children back into the
lives of people."
It is indeed time to re-consider our
handling of the nation's most valuable
resource - its children - so that at
the next White House Conference, no
staff member will say, as one did to
David and Liz, "I wouldn't want my
children to be here."



splits tore the conference apart. More
delegate frustrations than recommend-
ations emerged from the 5-day session.
The conference came under attack
from a caucus of delegates represent-
ing national organizations even before
the official start of the conference. The
dissatisfaction centered on the refusal
of the White House staff to schedule
a plenary session - as had occurred in
the past- where overriding issues
could be discussed before all delegates
at one time.
The dissenting groups, coordinated
by the Day Care and Child Develop-
ment Council, condemned the confer-
ence leadership for its "refusal to in-
vite active citizen participation a n d
consultation in the planning and or-
ganization of the conference" and call-
ed on Hess to "assure the citizen's dele-
gates . . . of an opportunity to express

plagued by a feeling of skepticism and
uselessness; delegates were seeming-
ly arbitrarily assigned workshops and
discussion sessions for which they had
expressed no preference, and in which
many felt they had little expertise.
Hess explained that in order to get
a multi-disciplinary mixture of dele-
gates he randomly assigned some dele-
gates to workshops not of their f i r s t
But still, some assignments to for-
ums came at a late date, leaving little
time for study and preparation for
those not already intimately familiar
with the topic of their workshop. Some
groups, in fact, did not receive the
position papers on which their discus-
sions were to be based until after the
conference had begun.
Tnis confusion was supplemented by
A ~ t+ 1 '1 a ri tt M~i ....A'!Y1 3[ Y.

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