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Who's taking care of Johnny? child care attracts employees.


Child Care Attracts Employees

Child care isn't just a social issue--it impacts business with employee stress and absenteeism--even here in Utah, the "family" state. Nearly 60 percent of Utah women now work, a figure higher than the national average of 57.4 percent. For the lucky ones, it's a matter of choice; for most, it's a financial necessity. Low wages and the high cost of living have forced many women to work outside the home just to make ends meet. It's no surprise a large number of these working women are mothers. Most are part of two-parent families, but thousands are single mothers struggling to earn a living and to raise their children on their own.

Utah's Child-Care Crisis

According to the Utah State Office of Child Care, there are approximately 250,000 children in the state under the age of 13 who need some kind of child care because their parents work. Less than half of them attend a licensed daycare; the rest are in unlicensed homes, in the care of relatives, or home alone. Director Dianne Yancey says the statistics show Utah is in a child-care crisis with children in this state suffering from a serious lack of quality care.

Though women are at the center of the child-care problem they are not the only ones caught in the middle. Single and even married fathers face many of the same problems. However, the real victims are the children.

One reason the state lacks quality child-care is that many care providers lack professional training. Another is that most parents don't understand what a quality program is or how to find one. Too many parents choose child care on the basis of location and cost alone. "We take more time investigating and researching automobiles than we do day-care centers," comments Yancey. She agrees it's a situation that can be improved through the joint efforts of community groups, churches, and businesses.

The Utah State Office of Child Care was created to address all aspects of the child-care issue, but Yancey says "Its primary goal is to get the corporate sector more involved in child care." It's a mission that has the full support of governor Norman Bangerter and the Utah Department of Community and Economic Development. Just a year ago the governor and the state Legislature established the Utah State Office of Child Care under the umbrella of economic development. The move sent a signal to the Utah business community that it must be a part of the child-care solution.

A Corporate Perk to Retain Employees

Though Utah is one of just a few states that can tout strong government commitment to the child-care issue, corporate commitment is slow in coming. Stan Parrish, the executive director of the Utah Department of Community and Economic Development, expects the marketplace to spur businesses into action. He says businesses must help provide child care to attract workers.

"Just as the private sector offers insurance and other perks, it is going to have to offer child care." Parrish points to the nation's diminishing work force; last year the labor force grew at a rate of 1.7 percent.

Parrish predicts that by the end of the century that figure will drop to .7 percent. Utah's work force is growing at a faster pace, but Parrish says it is still declining. As the work force decreases, it becomes more difficult for employers to find productive workers. Right now, Utah businesses don't have to provide child care to attract employees because there are still plenty of workers in the state, but Parrish believes it's only a matter of time before businesses will be forced to compete for well-educated, well-trained employees, many of whom are women. Parish believes in five or six years it will be commonplace for businesses to offer child care. "It's not that far down the road, but we need to start to address child care issues in the interim."

The threat of a diminishing work force has already become a reality for some businesses in Utah. Faced with a nursing shortage and mounting absenteeism, Intermountain Health Care opened a near-site child-care facility in order to recruit and retain qualified workers. For the last three years the IHC We Care Child Development Center has offered topnotch child care for employees at LDS Hospital, Primary Childrens' Medical Center, and the IHC central office. Close to 300 children are currently enrolled at the center, with nearly 200 more on a waiting list. The center accommodates the various shifts of hospital employees, and parents can drop in any time. The service is not cheap, but IHC helps offset the employee cost through subsidies.

IHC senior vice president Steven Kohlert thinks child care is a smart investment. "You save dollars in turnover because there are very significant costs in recruiting and retraining new employees; you save dollars in absenteeism; and finally you lose productivity when an employee is worried about a child. We know our employees are the success of our work; anything we can do to help them is just a smart thing for us to do."

We Care Child Development Center Director Theresa Creel says the facility meets the company's goal of attracting and keeping quality workers because it provides quality care. "Just warehousing children is not enough. Child care must be designed to nurture and develop a child's cognitive and social skills." Creel also believes employees accomplish more on the job when they know their children are in good hands.

IHC employees agree. Joanne Bello, a medical record coder at Primary Children's Medical Center, leaves three-year-old Lyndsey at the IHC child-care center while she's at work. Joanne says when she's at the office she doesn't worry about her daughter. "I'd rather have her here than anywhere else. I don't have to worry about abuse, and it's well structured, not just supervised play." Joanne says the child-care center was the main reason she applied for a job with IHC. "I knew IHC had opened the daycare, and when I started looking [for a new job], I kept going back and forth to LDS and Primary Children's."

For Gayle Wyner, assistant office coordinator at LDS Hospital's social services, the exceptional care her son Jeffrey receives at the center is the No. 1 reason she's staying put. "I have had other job offers, but [child care] is that big of a deal to me that I haven't switched from IHC."

Different Options for Different Companies

What works for one company may not work for another. It's important employers realize there are child-care options to benefit businesses of every size and need. AT&T "reached out" to its employees in Utah and discovered most already had their own child care. The company's "Because You Care" program was created to help improve the quality of that care. Donnetta Mitchell, chair of AT&T's child-care committee, says that through education seminars, the program teaches parents and caregivers the skills needed to enhance children's growth and development.

American Express employees "don't leave home" without KidsCheque and FamilyCheque. The national program pays workers up to $35 a week to help meet monthly child-care and elder-care expenses. Alan Lake, director of human resources for Utah's Travelers Check Operation Center, calls it a "leading edge" benefit that helps recruit and keep workers, and it lets them know the company cares.

Though many Utah businesses are investing in child care, they remain the exception, not the rule. The director of the Utah State Office of Child Care says "It's a slow movement, but it is steady." Dianne Yancey hopes business involvement will grow since it is the key to providing quality child care. "When businesses get involved they go the full nine yards; they offer the finest facilities and the best staffs. Business owners don't want substandard child care for tomorrow's work force."

Jane McNamara Thomas is a free-lance writer in Salt Lake City.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Olympus Publishing Co.
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.

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Author:Thomas, Jane McNamara
Publication:Utah Business
Date:Aug 1, 1991
Previous Article:Women who mean business: it's a balancing act.
Next Article:Cache County.

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