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Firms Get Involved in Business of Child Care : While Some Employers Try to Meet Needs of Working Parents, Shortage of Facilities Exists

September 29, 1986|LYNN SMITH | Times Staff Writer

Sue Ko came to the Irvine Hilton on Friday for the symposium "Child Care: A Cost of Doing Business." But the preschool director found herself sidetracked for a while in the hall feeding a bottle to an 8-week-old infant while the child's father, Irvine City Councilman Ray Catalano, spoke on the city's dedication to solving the day care dilemma.

It was his day to care for the child, Catalano explained. His wife was working and the sitters fell through.

The ironic situation could not have better demonstrated the symposium's message: Child care is no longer just the private problem of working mothers.

"Sixty percent of men have wives who are working. Neither men nor women have wives at home" to take care of the children, said Dana Friedman, a senior researcher at the New York-based Work and Family Information Center, who gave the keynote speech on the state of child care in the corporate world. Mothers experience the most stress from conflicts between work and family, but men who are involved in child care are not immune from the same stress, which can affect job performance, she said.

Many Underestimate Problem

Many older executive officers don't identify with the problem, or they may underestimate it because employees are too afraid to speak up, Friedman said. One executive mother whose child was sick came into work two hours late after making arrangements for the child's care, Friedman said. But she told her colleagues that she had had a flat tire because she didn't want her male counterparts to think she was less committed to work than they were.

But William Popejoy, chairman of Financial Corp. of America, a holding company in Irvine that owns American Savings and Loan Assn., told the symposium's audience that "corporate child care assistance is becoming a necessity. . . . The '50s baby boom has created its own baby boom, and these parents, realizing the necessity of the dual-income household in order to attain the American dream, need child care." He said that by 1990, 60% of mothers of children under 3 will be working.

During the past four years, the number of medium and large employers providing some form of day care assistance to their employees has grown dramatically, from 600 to 2,500, Friedman said. In some cases, she said, the companies are family-owned with family-oriented policies; some are administered by young fathers who understand conflicts between work and family, and some regard child care as a good business strategy to reduce absenteeism, turnover and tardiness and improve productivity and morale.

300 Attended

Nearly 300 people, many of them middle-management executives representing about 100 Orange County businesses, attended the symposium sponsored by the City of Irvine, the Irvine Co., the Industrial League of Orange County and AMI/The Irvine Medical Center. Some were fathers of preschoolers and said they were attempting to involve their corporations in day care.

In Orange County, 6,000 children were on waiting lists for subsidized child care in 1984 and there will be 24,700 new child care spaces needed for children 5 and under by 1988, according to the Commission on the Status of Women. In Irvine, only 61% of the children under 5 who need child care receive it, and only 19% of the school-age children, according to the city.

In panels and seminars, researchers and business representatives described new models of corporate solutions and pioneering public-private-community partnerships. All repeatedly stressed that their interest was not altruistic.

"Unless we do something unique, our widget looks like any other widget," said Brandy Birtcher, a partner in the family-run Birtcher development firm. On Sept. 2, the company opened the county's first on-site day care center in an industrial park at its new Orange County Technology Center, at the intersection of the Costa Mesa Freeway and Dyer Road in Santa Ana.

"I felt child care would provide something my competition would not provide. And I wanted to be on the leading edge," he said. He added that the project received substantial public relations benefits from the publicity it received.

Armstrong Learning Center leases and operates the child care facility, which is open to a maximum of 140 children, from 2 years to second grade. It costs up to $72 a week plus a $35 annual registration fee. So far, the center is only 60% full, he said.

Essential to Irvine

Catalano called child care "essential" in Irvine to lure capital investment and industry. If young families, an attractive labor force, can be drawn to the city, industry will follow, he said. "It's a major part of our marketing strategy."

In addition to a full-time child care coordinator and a city child care committee, Irvine sponsors before- and after-school recreation programs, incentives for family day care providers and a joint child care project with the school district to raise money and provide child care on elementary school sites.

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