Messenger - Vol. 1, No. 2, Page 15
Winter 1992
Ultimate children's advocate
     In her pleated skirt, checked blouse and cropped jacket she looks
like the president of the PTA, but considering Jo Anne Barnhart
controls a $27 billion mega-budget, it's safe to assume her
responsibilities are a little more widespread.
     Children are her first concern, however, because Barnhart,
Delaware '75, is assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Health
and Human Services. She oversees a staff of more than 2,000 in an
agency responsible for more than 60 programs aimed at providing help
to families-especially those with low incomes.
     Last fall, Barnhart returned to Newark to speak at the 30th
anniversary of the Newark Day Nursery. Introduced by her friend and
mentor Sen. William V. Roth, Barnhart told the gathering her
department's focus is to improve the life of children by improving
conditions for their families.
     It's a holistic approach that takes into consideration just how
the American family has changed over the last 30 years, she said.
     "How many of you were in day care when you were children?" she
asked the audience of young parents. When no one raised a hand, she
asked, "How many of you use day care?" Almost every hand was raised.
     "As the working mother of a 3-year-old son, I am doubly committed
to making sure the federal government remains responsive to families,"
Barnhart said.
     Detailing some of the programs her agency administers, including
Head Start and the JOBS program, Barnhart discussed the concept of
transitional child care. This plan would require the government to pay
for child care during the first year that a welfare mother returns to
     "Every issue is a controversial issue when it relates to child
care and the family," she said.
     "The question we have to ask ourselves is what does it take, what
do we do, to ensure that our children grow up in happy, healthy homes
and become constructive, contributing citizens."
     An appropriate goal, she said, is to have every child come to
school each day ready to learn, provided with proper nutrition and
health care, nutured and not abused and connected to someone who reads
to them and participates in their life.
     "One of the key elements in raising happy, healthy children is a
strong emotional attachment to a primary caregiver," she said. "Simply
put, this means someone has GOT to be crazy about that kid."
     Barnhart grew up in Delaware, where her father worked for the
DuPont Co., and attended Brandywine High School.
     After graduation from the University, she went to work in
Wilmington for the SERVE Nutrition Program, which fed 1,000 meals a
day to senior citizens. Relocating to Washington, D.C., in 1977,
Barnhart became Roth's assistant on domestic policy issues, including
welfare, health, labor and Social Security.
     In l98l, she became associate commissioner for family assistance
at Health and Human Services, returning six years later to Roth's
office as staff director of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee.
In April 1990, President Bush tapped her for her present post.
     -Beth Thomas