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From Child-Care Fantasy to Fact : Long Beach Struggles to Help Working Parents Cope

August 06, 1989|BETTINA BOXALL | Times Staff Writer

LONG BEACH — Laura Lynn Boggeln, 6 months old, spends her days immersed in infant affairs on the first floor of one of the city's swankiest new office buildings while her mother, Cheri Boggeln, a tax manager for an accounting firm, spends her days immersed in corporate affairs 17 floors above.

It is the kind of child-care arrangement that working mothers dream about. Boggeln commutes with Laura Lynn from Huntington Beach and then drops her off at a bright, spacious child-care center in her office building, the World Trade Center on Ocean Boulevard. When Laura Lynn, who is nursing, wants a snack, the center staff calls Boggeln, who pops down to feed her baby.

Such arrangements remain the stuff of fantasy for the vast number of working parents, however. Two years ago a city task force on child care estimated that there was a shortage of more than 12,000 child-care spaces in Long Beach. While the number of licensed child-care spaces has increased by about 1,200 since 1985 to 7,797, the overall child-care scene has not changed substantially, reflecting a nationwide demand that far outstrips supply.

Against that background of need, the city has been working in several ways to expand child-care services. It has changed zoning requirements to ease the establishment of family day-care homes, will probably hire a child-care coordinator next year, and in the meantime, has hired a private consultant to help form a nonprofit corporation to promote affordable child care in Long Beach.

Would Encourage Facilities

The corporation, involving both private businesses and public agencies, probably will act as a broker or deal maker to encourage the creation of child-care facilities, said consultant Gretchen Anderson, who has worked with a similar organization in Los Angeles.

Called the Childcare Partnership, the corporation could, for instance, help a child-care operator find building space or solicit equipment donations to lower the cost of opening a center.

"There is a real unique opportunity to be creative and say, 'Why not?,' " said Diana Bonta, director of the Department of Health and Human Services.

Creativity helps when confronting the challenges of opening a child-care center. Start-up costs are high and the pay is low. "There's no profit incentive and it's a highly stressful occupation," Anderson said.

"We laughingly say we pay people more to park our cars than to take care of our children, and while we laugh, it's the truth," said Barbara Frame, who was on the child-care task force two years ago and is a member of a committee helping to put together the Childcare Partnership. A trained child-care worker typically makes no more than $7 or $8 an hour, Frame said.

Low wages do not translate into low fees. With child-care costs ranging from $35 to $135 a week, depending on the age of the child and the type of facility, a couple needs to earn at least $30,000 to $35,000 a year to afford child care, according to child-care experts.

That creates considerable demand for subsidized care. There is always a waiting list for openings at the three centers run by the Long Beach Day Nursery, which gets money from United Way and donations to subsidize many of its 257 spaces.

Frame, who works for the Long Beach Council of Camp Fire Girls and Boys, said that while the city has pursued the task force recommendations, she has been somewhat frustrated by the pace. "Slow, that's the key word," she said. "It just seems to me it has taken forever" to get the partnership rolling.

Councilwoman Jan Hall, who was on the Governor's Child Care Task Force four years ago, complained that the city Administration has ignored calls to open a child-care center for city employees. "I believe the city of Long Beach should provide the lead for the private sector in establishing a child-care facility for its own employees," she said.

For now, Health Department officials say the city is concentrating on getting the partnership going.

With redevelopment bringing more and more workers to the downtown district, the need for child care there promises to become more acute, spurring business interest in the issue.

Yet while there is much praise of IDM Corp. for setting aside the space for a child-care center in the 27-story World Trade Center, it is not necessarily the sign of things to come. Developers of the massive downtown Pike project, which will include offices, shops and homes, said they would like to include child-care facilities in the complex. But other downtown developers said child-care space is not something they feel compelled to offer.

San Francisco Law

And city officials said the Long Beach office market is too soft to adopt the type of child-care requirements passed in San Francisco, where developers of large office and hotel buildings must either contribute to a city child-care fund or set aside space space for a child-care center.

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