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Raising Arkansas.

There Are More Than 2,200 Child-Care Centers In Arkansas With A Few Operated By Corporations

Reporter's Note:

Wednesday, 3 p.m.

I'm racing to meet my deadline, and the telephone rings. It's Maria, the lady who keeps my 6-month-old daughter while I work.

Drew is running a high fever and getting fussy. She's never fussy. Ask my co-workers, who have had the pleasure of her company while we all raced to meet other deadlines on other days.

If this baby could talk, she could tell you some "Whispers" now.

I should take Drew to the doctor, Maria says. I figure she knows because she spends more waking time with Drew than I do.


But true.

Anyway, so much for my deadline. Thank goodness I have an understanding boss. If I didn't, I wouldn't be working.

Later, crisis averted, I am finishing the story by the light of midnight oil, one ear listening for the sweet cough in the next room.

And so it goes in the lives of thousands of working mothers.

What a way to celebrate a birthday.

Acxiom Corp., whose Children's Center Inc. turned a year old last week, was named one of the best 85 best companies for working mothers by Working Mother magazine.

"Working mothers made spectacular advances this year, despite the bleak economic climate," the magazine says in a preface to its sixth annual survey. "During the recession, corporations laid off tens of thousands of workers, and many restructured their businesses. But the policies, programs and benefits designed to support working parents not only escaped the ax, they have literally exploded."

Acxiom is one of several Arkansas companies taking the importance of family into consideration.

Businesses are discovering a child-care program can be a recruiting and retention tool, as well as a boost to employee productivity.

There are more than 2,200 child-care facilities licensed by the state with an authorized capacity of more than 64,000 children.

Pulaski County facilities are licensed to accommodate more than 19,000 children.

Benton and Washington counties are next with licensed capacities of more than 3,000 children each.

"By the end of the century, virtually all mothers will be working," said the University of Arkansas at Little Rock's Bettye Caldwell. "Day care is going to be as common as the public schools."

Caldwell made those comments in 1989 after receiving a five-year grant to study the effects of various kinds of day care on children, including day-care centers and home-care centers.

Her comments ring even more true two years later.

One of every two children under age 6 has parents who work outside the home, according to the Arkansas Child Care Facility Review Board.

What roles can, or should, Arkansas companies play in meeting the needs of workers and their families?

What programs are available?

Where The Children Are

Acxiom's child-care center, located at the company's headquarters in Conway, is licensed for 114 children and cares for 68.

There are about 900 Acxiom employees in Conway.

"Child care is an issue for us since the company's average age is 27 to 28, and 53 percent of our Conway |employees~ are women," says Kathleen McComber, director of human resources for Acxiom. "Providing a quality facility in a convenient location has given those with young children peace of mind about their children's well-being."

"It's a convenience for them," says Scarlett Kittler, a company spokeswoman. "It's not a benefit financially."

The center charges $65 per week for infants but provides diapers. It charges $50 per week for children more than 2 years old. The rates are typical for central Arkansas.

Before the company opened its day-care center, an Acxiom task force toured several corporate programs, including Heritage Publishing Inc. at Sherwood.

Heritage began its program in 1987 with 35 children. Today, the successful program is at capacity with 150 children. Heritage has about 1,000 employees.

"Our parents can check on babies until they feel confident we can take care of them," says Shirley Hardke, the vice president at Heritage who developed the center. "The children know that mama and daddy are just across the parking lot."

Children go to the center at Halloween to trick-or-treat and at Christmas to go caroling.

"They know where their parents work and what they do," Hardke says. "That's comforting to kids."

Many of central Arkansas' large hospitals offer corporate child care.

"Most day-care centers aren't open the hours our employees need," says Penny Ingram, director of the Child Enrichment Center at Little Rock's Arkansas Children's Hospital.

The center is licensed for 147 children but has more children on its rolls because employees work various shifts. The center is open until 11:30 each night, even on weekends.

"We're just not big enough," Ingram says.

Eighteen months ago, the center had 50 children. It has expanded twice. Ingram hopes to have 225 children enrolled soon.

The benefits?

"Parents are going off to work with a free mind, and the kids are thriving," she says.

The hospital strives to beat the state-mandated adult-to-child ratio, maintaining a 1-to-4 ratio.

Granddaddy Baptist

Baptist Medical System operates two child-care facilities, one near Baptist Medical Center at Little Rock and one at Baptist Memorial Medical Center at North Little Rock. More than 400 children are cared for at the two centers.

Baptist has more than 5,000 employees, and 80 percent of its work force is female.

Baptist has been in the child-care business since 1957 and offers a consulting service to companies interested in starting a center.

Baptist is working with several northwest Arkansas companies, according to Russell Harrington, president.

Harrington urges smaller companies to consider working with adjacent companies to form centers.

While most corporate day-care centers charge enough to cover their costs, Baptist subsidizes about 50 percent of the costs of its centers. Employees then only have to pay $37 per week for an infant, including diapers and formula. When using a pretax salary-reduction plan, employees save even more.

"The center has been a good recruiting tool in the past and has a significant impact on productivity and retention," Harrington says.

Like most corporate child-care centers, Baptist has a lengthy waiting list and can't actively use its centers as recruiting tools.

Female employees usually put their names on a list as soon as they learn they're pregnant.

"We often know before the dads," jokes Maureen Jones, director of the centers.

Traditional Options

Churches are a major day-care provider in Arkansas.

Little Rock's First United Methodist Church operates the state's largest facility. Its Child Care Development Center is licensed for about 500 children.

The center's size allows it to offer programs such as dance lessons and piano lessons.

The church, in conjunction with Arkansas Children's Hospital, recently implemented a program called "Bearly Ill."

With a "sick room" staffed by an ACH nurse, any parent may drop off a child who is too sick to go to his regular day-care center but is well enough for the mother or father to go back to work.

On first inspection, most day-care centers look (and smell) about the same.

"It's not a business that is easy to make a living at," says Betty Reed, a licensing supervisor for the state.

It shows.

Conditions at centers visited by Arkansas Business were not always appealing.

Most centers adhere to the state's minimum guidelines but often don't exceed them. Equipment is adequate, but parents must face a simple fact: It's not home.

Several centers prepare a daily checklist for parents showing when the child was fed, slept and changed.

A recent segment on the ABC News television program "20/20" documented, with hidden cameras, horrible conditions in some New Orleans day-care centers.

It showed children left for hours in their own vomit, infants dropped headfirst into cribs then slapped, children never removed from their car seats.

ABC officials say the segment generated more mail than any in the show's history.

"I couldn't stand to watch," says a Little Rock working mom. "I had to change the channel."

"I couldn't move, not even to change the channel, it was so awful," says another.

Perhaps the piece was sensational.

Perhaps bad day care is the exception, not the rule.

But parents in Arkansas and elsewhere are re-evaluating their child-care arrangements.

"People are beginning to ask questions," says licensing supervisor Reed. "Child care is coming to the forefront as an issue."

The Arkansas Child Care Facility Review Board fielded 329 abuse-neglect complaints last year. One-third of those were substantiated.

The board received 746 other licensing-violation complaints. Of those, 327 were substantiated.

Last week, an Arkansas Business reporter watched while a crawling toddler made his way under a mechanical swing at a Little Rock day-care center, only to be hit on the head.

At another facility, two infants, still in their car seats, were side by side in a playpen.

How long had they been there?

The parents don't know.

The children at both centers may be getting good care overall, but for working moms, the opportunities for spot checks are limited.

Increasingly, corporations are realizing they can play a valuable role and increase a working parent's choice.

Officials at First Commercial Corp. and Worthen Banking Corp. say they have considered corporate child care.

Meanwhile, some Arkansas companies are providing other "family" benefits.

For example, Southwestern Bell Corp. offers several special benefits. Most were initiated by a union, Communications Workers of America.

The benefits include:

* An unpaid "anticipated disability leave" under which a pregnant woman may take up to six months of leave, before delivery, with her job protected.

* "Care of newborn/adopted child leave" under which a mother or a father can take up to a year's unpaid leave after the birth of a child.

* A six-week paid disability leave after delivery of a child.

* "Family care leave" for up to 12 months in a 24-month period to care for a seriously ill family member.

* A dependent care reimbursement plan under which up to $5,000 per year in salary can go through a pretax salary reduction to fund child care, saving the employee hundreds of dollars in taxes.

Working parents, with the help and understanding of their employers, can contribute today while raising the contributors of tomorrow.

Reporter's Note:

Drew is much better.

It was her first -- but surely not her last -- ear infection.

As you can see, the story made it in. A little late, but it made it.

State Has Minimum Licensing Requirements For Child-Care Centers

The Child Care Facility Review Board was established in 1973 by the Arkansas Legislature.

The board meets monthly to review and act on recommendations of the Department of Human Services' Division of Children and Family Services.

There are 26 licensing specialists in Arkansas who must handle quarterly monitoring and annual renewals for more than 2,200 facilities.

That's an average of more than one center per day.

Reduced monitoring is allowed for centers that consistently show compliance.

"Parents always have the option of checking out a facility and contacting our office," says Betty Reed, a licensing supervisor for the state.

A year ago, the division began a voluntary registration program for home-care facilities with less than five children. Registrants are spot-checked. In return, they are allowed to participate in food and grant programs.

Reed says state law mandates minimum requirements.

Essential standards are those relating to fire, health, safety, nutrition, staff-child ratios and space.

The mandatory regulations include:

* One worker per six children for ages 6 weeks to 18 months.

* One worker per 12 children for ages 18 months to 3 years.

* At least 10 hours of in-service training each year for staff members working with children.

* An annual physician's statement for all workers, including volunteers, showing the absence of communicable disease.

* 35 SF of usable floor space per child for indoor activities.

* Infants and toddlers in separate quarters from older children.

* Cribs at least two feet apart.

* No more than two children in a playpen for play.

* No more than one child in a playpen for sleep.

* A written fire and tornado policy and routine emergency drills.

The state urges parents to compare child-care facilities.

Kathy Stegall, child-care coordinator with the Division of Children and Family Services, offers this list of considerations that go beyond minimum requirements:

* Do I feel comfortable in this environment? If not, my child probably won't either.

* Do the children seem happy and involved?

* How does the provider relate to the children? Does he or she engage them in activities but also let them play by themselves?

* Are toys and equipment in good repair?
COPYRIGHT 1991 Journal Publishing, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:includes related article; child-care centers in Arkansas
Author:Ford, Kelly
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Sep 23, 1991
Previous Article:The Robert St. John Network Inc.
Next Article:Tenants on the move.

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