A New Niche in Day Care Emerges

PHASE ONE, a developer here, wanted to offer child care as a benefit in the new business park they were building. Robin Glickman, president of Educational Enrichment Systems (a non-profit child care provider) was looking for ways to reach the vast group of working mothers in the area who desperately needed child care. They needed someone to put it all together, who was familiar with both ends of the child care issue. They needed Chris Mechalas.

Ms. Mechalas, head of KiddieCorp, a firm that plans and sets up child care for a variety of clients, from large corporations to developers, is a new breed of day care professional.

Says Ms. Glickman, ``It used to be that everyone involved in child care either used to be an administrator or teacher.

``I felt that Chris would be able to offer the best marketing for us because of her experience working with developers and her business background.''

Mechalas is one of a dozen child care consultants countrywide who are helping transform child care from its ``babysitter'' image into a legitimate and necessary business.

Citing lower turnover, less absenteeism, and increased productivity as top reasons for corporate-sponsored day care centers, Mechalas works with businesses and developers to come up with a child care solution that will work best for each company.

Although not a child care operator, KiddieCorp helps launch the center to the degree the client specifies. This ranges from writing a proposal to the actual on-site installation and procurement of a child care operator.

``Sometimes a company may not need an actual on-site center. They may want to set up a program with a nearby existing center to offer discounted rates to their employees,'' says Mechalas.

``Or they may just need a shuttle service to get the employees' children from school to a day care center. There are lots of options,'' she says.

The case of Phase One and Educational Enrichment Systems may have been exceptional in that EES was actively seeking a wider market. Usually the company or consultant contacts the care provider. Nevertheless, this three-way merger has been beneficial to all involved: EES has provided 96 more spaces for children of working parents in San Diego and Phase One has a high-quality child care center to attract clients.

``When a corporation is involved in child care, they will pay teachers a little more and have first-rate equipment,'' says Mechalas, ``because their name and image are at stake.''

For example, EES has set higher standards than the State of California. Their teachers must have a two-year degree equivalent in child development, whereas the state's standard is 12 units. In the centers the EES operates, their ratio of staff to children is higher than required by law.

Business parks, in particular, may be the optimum solution for the future of corporate child care. These clusters of mirrored buildings and manicured walkways offer a concept attractive to both employers and employee/parents - consortium child care.

By sharing the expense of an installation and operation of a child care center with other companies in the complex, each company can offer the benefit of on-site day care to its employees at a fraction of the cost of a sole corporate sponsorship.

A new California law allows substantial tax breaks for day care start-up costs, which is bound to increase corporate child care here.

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