Meeting day-care needs

ONE of the social needs in the United States is for additional child-care services, excellent in quality and affordable in price, to aid working mothers. As many as 1 in 5 unemployed women may be unable to seek work because they cannot find proper child care. Many existing child-care facilities are neither licensed nor regulated - by one estimate only 1 in 8; some of these are of poor quality and should be upgraded or replaced by better ones.

Further, the requirement for child care is expected to rise. By 1990, 40 percent more children than in 1980 are expected to need all-day care while their mothers work. Women with pre-school children are the fastest-growing part of the labor force: Slightly more than half now work. In 1975, 34 percent of women with children under three worked outside the home; by 1982, 46 percent did.

Several segments of society have been pitching in to help meet these needs. State and federal funds pay part of the child-care costs for many low-income parents. In recent years civic-oriented service organizations such as YWCAs and Boys and Girls Clubs have begun child-care centers, either all day or after school hours. Similarly, many women have opened small facilities in their homes, often referred to as family day-care centers for their generally homey atmosphere.

Some all-day centers take children from age three to kindergarten; others specialize in infants and toddlers.

A growing number of public schools now provide after-school-hours care; other organizations, often nonprofit, have established similar after-school centers. Relatives care for many children during these afternoon hours. Yet an estimated 6 million children have no supervision from the time school lets out until their parents come home from work.

American corporations are beginning to show increased interest in helping parents who need child care. Some are starting all-day facilities for employees. More are partially subsidizing costs at existing care centers, especially high-tech firms which seek skilled workers.

This multifaceted approach to meeting society's day-care needs is the right one. But all segments should continue to work at it. Tax incentives for employers ought to be provided, beyond what now exist, to encourage the opening of additional licensed care centers. Industries are on the right path of providing child-care subsidies to employees: More should join in. States or localities ought to license and inspect periodically all child-care centers; most state regulations are reasonable.

Despite the current budget pinch, federal and state governments should continue at least at present levels their subsidies for low-income mothers who are working, obtaining job training, or attending school full time. This is sound economics, as it enables the women to become taxpayers, and it is good social policy as well.

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