CHILD CARE: IN THE BOSS'S BEST INTEREST?
* Eight-year-old Nancy comes from a rural area of North Carolina. She lives alone with her mother, who has a full-time job. After school Nancy would have to return home to an empty house, playing the latchkey child. But her mother's company -- PCA International, a leading processor of color portraits -- allows Nancy to come to work. In the company's child development center she can play and do her homework. Her mother pays $12 a week for this after-school care.Skip to next paragraph
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* Six-year-old Mark is a latchkey child during the week. Unlike Nancy, he does come home to an empty house. His mother works in town -- Hartford, Conn. His father is employed by the Connecticut General Life Insurance Company in suburban Bloomfield where Mark's family lives. On holidays -- and this summer -- Mark will go to work with his father and take part in CG's "living and learning" program run by Kinder-Care. It's located in an old barn in a remote corner of the company's 550-acre corporate campus.
* Howard's father makes gaskets in Skokie, Ill. After school, Howard, a fourth grader, is often home alone. But during summer vacation, he will attend the Fel-Fro day camp, a company-run program for the children of company workers. Howard will drive to work with his father and then be bused to a country setting 40 miles away for sports, swimming, and recreational activities. The cost is a nominal $10 a week per family.
Are Nancy, Mark, and Howard special? You bet they are. They participate in three of no more than a dozen or so industry-run programs for school-age children in the US.
Today there are only 20 to 25 on-site corporate day-care programs across the nation. But most cater to toddlers and preschoolers, as do a scattering of union and government-sponsored child centers, and baby-minding services at hospitals, military bases, and college campuses.
However, pressure now is building on the private sector to respond to parents' growing needs for after-school, vacation, and holiday care for their youngsters.
It is coming from women's groups, whose members today are entering the US work force in larger numbers than ever before; from unions, who are eager to organize female workers; from employed parents (married and single), who are concerned about their unsupervised children; and from day-care lobbyists, who see government funds for child care drying up and who view home cares as inadequate and franchised programs as questionable. The pressure is coming even from the business sector itself, which now is beginning to perceive child care as good public relations and in its own best interests.
But why business? Wouldn't parents prefer that the schools, nonprofit community groups, and neighborhood homes handle their child-care problems?
Perhaps not. Richard Kinney, manager of public affairs research for J. C. Penney, points out that a recent Gallup poll shows that 72 percent of Americans rate business as a "potentially positive force" in helping families. And 92 percent of the delegates of all three sessions of last year's White House Conference on Families recommended that business initiate "family-oriented personnel policies."
How is the private sector responding? Few advocate in-plant day-care centers except for infants. Safety, insurance liability, and transportation factors make the coming and going of school-age children very unattractive to corporate officers. Connecticut General now restricts older-child programs to vacations and holidays for these very reasons. Fel-Pro investigated an on-site program and rejected it. And PCA's after-school clientele is extremely limited, although a company spokesman insists that day care for 180 preschool and kindergarten children has saved $10,000 a year in reduced worker turnover and been worth $30,000 as an aid to recruitment.
But on-site programs are not the only ways for businesses to involve themselves in day care. Alternatives include:
1. Information and referral [I&R]. These services try to match a parent's request for care with programs available in the community. There are thousands of child-care referral groups throughout the US -- mainly in large cities. But, according to Dana Friedman, consultant in family and work policies, only 4 percent are industry related.