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Too Many Kids Too Few Places : Child Care in the Valley : Delays, Money Woes Plague Employers' Child-Care Efforts

August 21, 1986|MIKE WYMA | Wyma is a Toluca Lake free-lance writer. and

Areport in a recent issue of Harvard Business Review estimated that 2,500 companies nationwide provide help of some kind with their employees' child-care needs, a fourfold increase in the last four years.

Yet there are only a handful of employer-assisted child-care centers in the San Fernando Valley area. Simi Valley Adventist Hospital and Horace Mann Infant/Toddler Preschool Center in Burbank are operating successfully now. But problems have marked the operation of both centers and delayed the openings of two others--one for employees of firms at Warner Center in Woodland Hills, the other at a Valencia industrial park.

"There is a staggering need for quality child care," said Sandy Englen, director of Family Connection, the Simi Adventist facility. But, she said, "the hard facts are not always there to convince an employer that it's in their interest to help with child care."

Founded four years ago by Simi Adventist, Family Connection recruited the bank card division of First Interstate Bank as a partner in January. That move, together with an increase in the ratio of children to staff, has helped keep the once financially troubled center open.

"We knew that it provided a very good benefit to employees who have children," said Steve Wilson, hospital vice president for finance, "but we were taking very substantial losses of $30,000 to $40,000 a year. Its elimination was discussed in administrative council.

"My gut feeling was that this was going to be the last year unless it started doing better financially."

Wilson said the center has turned the corner, operating in the black for the first five months of 1986.

It pays $1,100 a month to the Simi Valley Unified School District to rent a closed school about three miles from the hospital. Liability insurance is provided under the hospital's coverage and is not charged against the child-care center's budget.

Parents pay the center $1.69 an hour for infant care and $1.32 an hour for older children. Licensed by the state to care for 92 children, the center now has 75 to 80 children and is looking for a third partner.

Kathy Bocash of Valencia, an obstetrics nursery supervisor, chose to work at Simi Adventist because of the hospital's day-care program.

"I could have found a job closer to home," she said, "but with the place where I worked involved in child care, it's a very reassuring thing."

It also has financial advantages. Simi Valley Adventist pays $80 a month toward child-care costs for each of Bocash's two children.

Horace Mann Infant/Toddler Preschool Center is in the hills of northeast Burbank. One of the playgrounds affords an eagle-eye view of airplanes taking off and landing at Burbank Airport. Here, demand for space far exceeds supply, largely because of the number and size of the sponsoring companies.

A spokesman for Lockheed Corp. said that company's waiting list for openings has 100 names. A spokesman for NBC said its waiting list has about 25 names.

Other businesses that participate in the center include Warner Brothers, Columbia Pictures, Disney Studios, the Burbank Studios and St. Joseph Medical Center.

Each company put up $10,000 to start the venture and in return receives 20 spaces for children of employees. Also receiving 20 spaces are the Burbank Unified School District, which provides the site, and residents of the City of Burbank, who finance the district through taxes.

Participating companies paid to refurbish the school, which had been closed because of declining enrollment, and do not subsidize the center. Operational funds come from fees charged to parents. The fees were raised in June to $114 a week for children 3 months to 2 years old, $80 a week for children 2 and 3, and $60 a week for those 3 to 5.

Unlike the hospital-run center in Simi Valley, which accepts children through the age of 12, Horace Mann does not provide before- or after-school care for children over 5.

Goldie Bemel, director of child development for the Burbank school district, said she expects the new fees to help close an operating deficit that has existed at the center since its October, 1984, opening. Bemel refused to disclose the size of the deficit, but said it was covered by money remaining from the center's start-up fund and not from taxes.

Mary Beirne, supervisor of the center, said the average stay for children is 10 1/2 hours a day. Staff members are employees of the Burbank school district. Enrollment stands at 190, the maximum permitted by the facility's state license, which includes 10 free-floating spaces beyond the 20 spaces for each of the nine participants.

"I have a waiting list of over 200 people," Beirne said. "Most of them are eligible because they're city residents, but they'll never get in. The companies have their own long lists, too. It's very popular."

One of the parents agreed.

"I have girlfriends who have been on the list forever," said Sandi Sheffield, whose sons Nathan, 3, and Jacob, 4, attend Horace Mann. Sheffield's husband, Bob, is a Burbank firefighter.

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