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More Corporations Developing Child-Care Programs, Study Shows

December 08, 1986|ELIZABETH MEHREN | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — American corporations have shown a dramatic increase in the development of child-care programs since 1978, a report by the Council on Economic Priorities indicates.

In 1985, about 2,500 U.S. corporations had child-care programs, compared with 110 in 1978, a "Child Care Update" by council project director Steven D. Lydenberg revealed.

But Danna Friedman of the Project on Work and Family Information Center at the Conference Board here put the figure even higher, saying that "about 3,000" corporations are now addressing this issue. The council, a nonprofit research organization, based many of its conclusions on numerical information provided by the Conference Board.

"Our child-care study shows that American businesses are tackling the important issue of child care in creative and useful ways," council executive director Alice Tepper Marlin said.

On-site day-care centers were found to be the least popular of corporate child-care options. By contrast, the use of flexible benefits--letting employes choose from a selection of benefits--and resource and referral services were found to have grown markedly.

Between 1984 and 1985, Lydenberg said, company flexible benefit programs doubled from 75 to 150. He said resource and referral services, in which corporations contract with private child-care referral organizations that provide information to employees in need of child care, had increased "tremendously."

One unexpected benefit of this development, Lydenberg said, is that "in doing so, making sure they have a network of reliable child care, they often get involved with support for the local centers. The corporations become a kind of local advocate for child care in communities."

Leave Policies Affected

Another growth area in the child-care arena was parental leave policies. A small, but increasing number of cities and states also are now initiating public-private partnerships, Lydenberg said. A partnership of this kind in Massachusetts, for example, involves a broad coalition of state, local and business representatives and offers a variety of child-care programs that includes a voucher system for welfare parents entering that state's employment and training program.

"It is a dramatic growth in a relative sense," Danna Friedman said, "but there are a lot of companies out there that haven't addressed this issue."

More than 44,000 companies in this country employ more than 100 workers, Friedman said. "The scope of the problem is so large that much more needs to be done . . . to responsibly meet the needs of the millions of children under age 18 whose mothers work outside the home," the Council on Economic Priorities' Marlin agreed.

As of March, 1985, 49% of women with infants under one year of age were working, up from 31% in 1975 and 24% in 1970. Of 6.3 million single-parent mothers, 61% of those with a child between three and five years of age hold a job. A total of 25 million children have a mother working on a regular basis; 91% of these with a working father.

The cost of child care averaged $3,000 per year, per child in 1985.

'Optimistic' Findings

While CEP's Lydenberg termed his findings "optimistic," others took a less rosy view. The Children's Defense Fund in Washington, for example, said 29 states spent less on child care in 1986 (adjusted for inflation) than in 1981.

"Business has taken a while to realize that women in the work force as well as dual-career and single-parent workers face special problems which need to be addressed," Lydenberg said. "It takes a while, and setting up any one of these programs is a substantial investment of resources."

Child care, he went on, "is an extremely difficult issue to deal with. It requires creative thinking. It's not something that a company steps into lightly."

Friedman attributed a significant portion of the increased attention to child care to "Mr. Reagan and the concept of public/private services, sanctioning the role the private sector can play in social services."

Cutbacks in federal allocations for child care, Friedman said, have meant that "there have been a lot of nonprofit organizations looking to the corporate community to replace what government was no longer able or willing to fund. Basically it brought the issue to the door of corporate board rooms."

Published in the "Child Care Update" report, the CEP conclusions also will be included in "Rating America's Corporate Conscience," a "social score card on 130 major companies" to be released in January by Addison-Wesley Publishing Co.

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