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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release April 12, 1997
                            TO THE NATION

THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. Today, I want to talk about the toughest job any person can have. It's not a job you can quit, show up late for, or do just enough to get by. In every way, it's a lifetime commitment -- it's being a parent.

In our times, parenting has become an even greater challenge. The world moves faster, and parents rightly worry more about how to protect their children's health, their safety and their future. Jobs place more demands on mothers and fathers. Finding a balance between home and work takes more effort than ever.

Parents can use some help. And while government doesn't raise children, it can sometimes give parents the tools they need to make their jobs easier. That's why we fought for and won the V-chip and a ratings systems for TV, so parents can better protect their young children from unsuitable shows. That's we fought to keep the tobacco industry from advertising their products to children. And why we're fighting to keep streets safer and to reduce juvenile crime. All these help parents to do a better job with their children.

But there is still work to be done. Parents want to do right thing by their children from the very start. And giving our youngest children what they need to thrive from the very first days of life is something the First Lady has studied for a long time. In her book, "It Takes a Village," Hillary called on our nation to give its attention to new findings about the early years of children's lives that so often are overlooked in intellectual, social and emotional development.

Our administration has worked hard to better understand these early years. Since 1993, we increased funding for children's research at the National Institutes of Health by 25 percent -- or $322 million -- and my balanced budget plan promotes further increases in funding. We expanded and improved Head Start, and we created an Early Head Start Program for children age three or younger so that they could get the stimulation they need at those critical times.

From our research, we know that from the very first days of life a child is developing emotionally and intellectually, and how he or she does in those first three years of life will help to determine how a child does later in school and in life. That's why we need to begin teaching and nurturing our children before they go to school.

We want to sort through our research and get it to parents and to care givers who work with children. So next week Hillary and I will bring together researchers, parents and other experts for the White House Conference on Early Childhood Development and Learning: What New Research on the Brain Tells Us About Our Youngest Children.

We will meet for a full day at the White House, with satellite hook-ups to more than 60 sites around our nation. This conference is an exciting and an enormous undertaking. It is a call to action to parents, to businesses, to care givers, the media, the faith community and the government, each to do their part to enhance the earliest years of life. It grows out of our commitment to find new ways to support parents and to help their children reach their God-given potential.

As part of that commitment, I also want to call today on the members of Congress to do their part to come to the aid of our families. They can do that very simply by passing my expansion of the Family and Medical Leave Act.

This bill would allow workers up to 24 hours of unpaid leave each year to fulfill certain family obligations. It could allow a worker to attend a parent-teacher conference, or take a child to the pediatrician, or to find quality child care, or to care for an elderly relative.

Families occasionally need these small pieces of time to take care of their own. More than 12 million American workers have taken leave for reasons covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act since it became the very first bill I signed into law in 1993. It was needed then, it's needed now and we need to improve on it. So I urge the Congress to act soon on this legislation. Don't ask people to choose ever between being good workers and good parents. We can help them to do both. Pass the expanded Family and Medical Leave Act.

I think this bill is so important that today I am asking all federal departments and agencies to make expanded Family and Medical Leave available to their workers immediately. Wherever possible, I want workers to have access right now to essential time off for family obligations.

I am committed to doing all we can to support families as they struggle to do right by their children. We know that the very earliest years will decide whether children grow up to become healthy and happy people. That's why we're giving parents time off to care for them, why we should extend the family leave law so millions more parents can have that opportunity and why we must focus all our science, education and public efforts to give our children the very best start in life.

Almost a century and a half ago, Oliver Wendell Holmes said, "A child's education should begin at least a hundred years before he was born."

What we do now can benefit generations of Americans to come. We can start with the smallest community -- the family. And from there we can rebuild and renew the best in America by beginning with the best of America, our children

Thanks for listening.