Growing need for child care

Sylvia Porter

November 27, 1990|By Sylvia Porter | Sylvia Porter,1990 Los Angeles Times Syndicate Times Mirror Square Los Angeles, Calif. 90053

For millions of women, "having it all" means being able to find quality, affordable child care that will enable them to stay in the labor force. This isn't easy to achieve.

Their need is being addressed by entrepreneurs who see an opportunity to profit. Commercial child care centers are a small part of the system today, but their continued rapid growth seems assured by the pent-up demand.

At the same time, employers who in the past have been slow to pick up on the issue are moving more rapidly to accommodate their employees. There's a good reason. Women with infants make up the fastest growing group in the labor force, points out Barbara Reisman, executive director of Child Care Action Campaign (CACC).

U.S. companies lose as much as $3 billion annually because of family-related absences, says Reisman. This has inspired 3,000 to 4,000 companies to underwrite child care assistance for employees.

How do organizations intercede? Reisman cites these examples from the files of CACC:

* At the University of California Medical Center, the union bargained for an on-site day care center to accommodate the schedules of nurses and other workers.

* At Leadville, Colo., when the mining industry collapsed, both parents had to work. A coalition of private and public sector forces joined to finance a center.

* In Atlanta, five companies, unable to go it alone, formed a consortium to open a child development center on the plaza floor of Rich's downtown department store.

* Companies that are hesitant to establish their own are retaining others to operate centers for them. A small company's reluctance is understandable. It takes little to create a significant legal liability.

* Other employers are contributing toward the cost of day care at non-company locations or making payments to employees as part of an overall benefits plan.

* Hotels, industrial parks and housing developments are including child care centers to attract both tenants and employers.

The current child care system is both costly and chaotic, according to CACC. For most parents, child care of any kind is not affordable. This results in women quitting the work force, or ,, using unlicensed "mom and pop" operations, or simply leaving their children home alone. Congress included $2.5 billion in the Budget Reconciliation Act to be used over three years for child care grants. Yet, government -- federal, state or local -- still hasn't fully recognized the critical need in terms of the state's own interests.

In the private sector, commercial child care operations are flowering but costs are still prohibitive for most families. The shares of a handful of chain operators are publicly traded. The largest of these is Kinder-Care Learning Centers, Inc. of Montgomery, Ala., with 1,260 centers.

The child care market is estimated today to be between $10 and $35 billion, according to Kinder-Care. All the national and regional chains serve only 3 percent of the nation's families, and Kinder-Care claims a third of the market. Its revenues in 1989 were $344 million.

Yet the industry is not without problems. Observers comment that regulation is still too lax.

Another problem: Child care workers are among the lowest paid in the nation. Few receive employee benefits. This and high turnover often result in low quality of care.

For corporations, a primary source of information on the issue is the Work and Family Information Center, The Conference Board, 845 3rd Ave., New York, N.Y. 10022, (212) 759-0900. Whether you are an individual, a member of a community group, a `D government official or a business leader, you can get information, including lists of national and local resources, from Child Care Action Campaign, 330 7th Avenue, 18th Floor, New York, N.Y. 10001, (212) 239-0138.

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