TO send a message to corporate America that dependent care is a serious business issue, 137 organizations and companies, led by such giants as International Business Machines Corporation and Motorola, have teamed up to commit $25.4 million toward child- and elder-care programs in 25 states and the District of Columbia.
The initiative, dubbed the American Business Collaboration for Quality Dependent Care, was announced yesterday by the chief executive officers of the 11 large companies that are spearheading the project. Many experts in family and work issues say it signals the beginning of a national trend.
"It will set the tone for an increased level of collaboration" between companies, says Arlene Johnson, director of the Conference Board's Work/Family Research & Advisory Board Panel. "Addressing issues of work and family are not just a matter of internal corporate policy, they're a matter of social and community action in which partnerships will make the difference."
The partnership comes as labor-force changes in the United States indicate a growing need for dependent care:
* More women in the work force. By 1995, about two-thirds of mothers of preschoolers will be employed, according to the Families and Work Institute in New York. Since women remain the primary caregivers, more day-care and supervision of school-age children will be needed.
* In 1988, 6.6 million dependent elders over age 65 needed assistance; that number is expected to reach 9 million by the year 2000, according to a study by the National Council on the Aging. By later that decade, em-ployees will have more dependent elders than kids, the agency says.
The $25.4 million will support 300 projects in 44 communities through 1994, including in-home volunteer-care programs for the elderly, after-school supervision for children, science and technology camps, and training of care providers. Ten child-care centers will be built and 15 expanded.
"Companies have had the point of view that the only way you could get involved in these issues is to do expensive things - like participate in creating on-site child care," says Deborah Stahl, director of AT&T's Family Care Development Fund. "This shows things can be done on a grass-roots level."
The programs, which differ in each community, were selected based on employee needs. The participating 109 companies and 28 public/private organizations assessed demographics, commuting patterns, and reviewed available services. Employees will receive priority access before slots are opened to the public. Participating businesses range from the State of Maryland to Hallmark Cards, Inc. The 11 companies that initiated the effort are Allstate Insurance, American Express, Eastman Kodak, Amoco, AT&T, Exxon, IBM, Johnson & Johnson, Motorola, The Travelers, and Xerox.
Many dependent-care specialists say the most significant part of the effort is its focus on quality.
"It's not just a question of providing services," says Bernice Weissbourd, president of the Family Resource Coalition in Chicago. "They have the whole thing planned so ... people are trained to deliver services well."
Over the last 10 years, family-friendly benefits have slowly gained momentum in the business world. Many companies have found that instituting such policies increases worker productivity, cuts turnover and absenteeism, and lifts morale.
"We look at [these policies] not as an extra but as a key business strategy," says Al Orendorff, spokesman for Allstate Insurance. "We've had relatively new employees come to us and tell us that one of the reasons they came to Allstate is they've done the research and were aware of our work and family commitment.... This is something you have to do if you intend to remain competitive and keep your best people."