BALTIMORE is among the five best cities in the country in which to find child care. That's the opinion of Working Mother magazine and a panel of child care experts it assembled to choose these cities.
In its February issue, the magazine names Baltimore as one of the "places where working parents can get the best care for their children." Baltimore joins Seattle, Minneapolis, Los Angeles and Irvine, Calif., as the cities "unanimously endorsed . . . as the best" by the panel.
"They all demonstrate an unusual commitment to addressing child care problems," according to the article. "Indeed, they have one problem in common: However numerous their present programs, there is need for more."
Among the criteria used to choose the cities were availability of money for child care, flexibility of zoning laws, the number of before- and after-school programs and the number of child care slots in both family and center care, the article says.
Among the accomplishments that make Baltimore "the best" are:
* The growing numbers of day care centers and providers licensed each month;
* KIDSLINE, a city-funded hot line that counsels and comforts latchkey children;
* Mayor Kurt Schmoke's annual conference for day care providers,
* And, city recruitment and incentive programs that have been making it easier to become licensed as family day care providers.
The article notes the mayor's commitment to child care and the )) increase in child care programs since he took office.
"I am proud that our initiatives to increase child care programs in Baltimore have been recognized," said Schmoke. "From the beginning, my administration has assertively developed new programs and services to ensure that child care for Baltimore's children is affordable, accessible and of the highest quality.
"We are also continuing to build on partnerships with communities, businesses and institutions to meet current and future needs," the mayor added.
"Of course, we're very delighted," said Sara Mandell of the Mayor's Office of Children and Youth. "It's very exciting." That office conducted a vigorous recruitment campaign last year that resulted in 600 people applying to become licensed family day care providers; many of them are licensed and operating, she said.
The magazine named 10 other cities that have made significant strides in child care in the article, "15 Best Cities for Child Care." They are Boston; Charlotte, N.C.; Denver; Fort Worth, Texas; Honolulu; Houston; Independence, Mo.; Miami; Sacramento, Calif., and Washington, D.C.
"I think the main value [of this list] is that it focuses publicity on child care and it provides role models for other cities," said Judsen Culbreth, executive editor of Working Mother. "People who are not in these cities can put a little pressure on their cities.
"Our readers want to see how people do it elsewhere," she said.
The magazine began with a list of at least 25 cities, chosen by the Child Care Action Campaign for their innovative approaches to child care. The panel of experts then voted on those cities, Culbreth said.
"We looked for cities that had a real commitment to child care from someone in a leadership position . . . a real vision of where they want to go," said Barbara Reisman, executive director of the Child Care Action Campaign.
"It's really wonderful to see . . . after all these years," said Sandra Skolnick, executive director of the Maryland Committee for Children, a children's advocacy group that has worked to improve child care for more than 40 years.
"What has happened is this enormous commitment to child care" throughout the state, involving government, business and individuals, said Skolnick.
On the magazine's panel were Helen Blank of the Children's Defense Fund in Washington; Bettye Caldwell, professor of education at the University of Arkansas in Little Rock; Ellen Galinsky, co-president of the Families and Work Institute in New York, and Elinor Guggenheimer, founder and president of the Child Care Action Campaign.