Harvard undergraduates joined about 220 child care providers, lobbyists, academics, social workers and parents concerned about child care for a day of networking, information exchange and inspiration on Saturday.
The one day conference, "Getting to Work." was the first major event Harvard has sponsored that dealt specifically with child care, according to conference coordinator Ingrid V. Eagly.
"[The conference's] main goal is to mobilize the community and to form lasting coalitions on child care issues," Eagly said. "We hope the conference will be one in a series of events that Harvard will initiate to help expand the availability, affordability and quality of child care in the greater Boston community."
The impact of welfare reform on children, employer-supported child care and the components of quality child care were a few of the topics conference participants and speakers tackled.
"We pay people more to pack potato chips than to care for children," said Abby J. Cohen, a managing attorney for the Child Care Law Center. "Despite the mouthings about children, the focus in on work enabling and not on kids."
Lynn Girton, an attorney at Greater Boston Legal Services, also noted that society's focus is not on children.
"We are not a child-oriented society," she said. "We dress up all the arguments, but what we never say is that kids deserve a loving environment."
Many of the child care experts said that child care is analogous to an investment in infrastructure, adding that the benefits of good care are enormous.
"I think that one of the things kids get out of good child care is a sense of confidence or self-esteem. It's a sense of the self that allows this kid to rise to the occasion," said Felton J. Earls, professor of human behavior and development at Harvard School of Public Health.
"When they want to, they can do very well. They feel they can do things," Earls said.
The Radcliffe Union of Students (RUS) was one of the sponsors of the conference, and members were enthusiastic about the conference's success.
"It's wonderful to see [the conference] come to fruition," said Sarah H. Lieberman '96, co-president of RUS. "There are a lot of issues I hadn't considered before. It's interesting to get a broader perspective."
RUS member Rebecca E. Stich '98 concurred. "People who might not have met otherwise are broadening their idea of what child care's about," she said.
The conference provided free child care for children between the ages of one and seven, Eagley said yesterday. Fourteen children pre-registered for the service, and one 12 year-old attended the conference.