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Child-Care Network Aids Company, County : Jobs: Home-based providers allow Lost Arrow Corp. in Ventura to draw mothers back to work. Some public employees use the system.

November 19, 1991|CAITLIN ROTHER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Lost Arrow Corp., a Ventura-based outdoor clothing designer and distributor, began providing child care for its employees' children eight years ago.

The firm built an on-site child-care center, and it filled up almost immediately. The company expanded it, and today the center cares for up to 92 children ranging in age from 8 weeks to 9 years. A large proportion of Lost Arrow's 337 employees in Ventura are women of childbearing age.

Not only is the day-care center full, it is expensive. It costs Lost Arrow $230,000 a year, 40% of the center's operating expenses. Employees pay the balance through monthly fees ranging from $194 for a child ages 6 to 9 to $434 for an infant.

But with the on-site center full and costly, Lost Arrow still was faced with the expense of recruiting new employees to replace those who had babies and decided to stay at home because they either couldn't afford care or couldn't find room at the corporation's center. So Lost Arrow sought an inexpensive solution.

Anita Garaway, the company's director of family services, with the co-sponsorship of Ventura County, established a network of home day-care providers in June, 1990, that has since grown to 18 members and can care for up to 138 children. As a result, Lost Arrow is getting more mothers to return to the work force.

Called the Great Pacific Family Care Contract Network, it is primarily for children of Lost Arrow's employees and those of the county's 6,400 workers. Children from the general population receive last priority in placement.

"Across the board, all of us are fundamentally committed to providing quality care to children," said Garaway, a mother of three.

To start the network, Lost Arrow spent $15,000, and Ventura County put up $10,000, Garaway said. This year, Lost Arrow will spend $15,000 to $20,000 more on the child-care network. Because of this program, Garaway said, last year the company also received $41,000 in state tax credits, got a $68,000 federal tax deduction, plus it saved $150,000 from lower recruitment costs and by having people come back to work.

"It is cost-effective to address these issues," Garaway said.

Patagonia Inc., which sells the clothing in retail outlets and by mail order under Lost Arrow's corporate umbrella, had sales of $112 million last year. Child-care benefits is one reason Patagonia was among 85 companies selected by Working Mother magazine recently as the nation's best employers for working parents.

Each child-care provider must meet Garaway's criteria before joining the network: They must be licensed by the state, hold an insurance liability plan that will pay up to $300,000 per accident per year, pass a physical, learn CPR and first-aid training, and agree to 12 hours of training in child development and curricular activities. Garaway also encourages providers to get additional accreditation from the National Family Day Care Assn.

Once they are accepted, Garaway gives each child-care center $250 to spend on such items as insurance, computer software or toys. They also can borrow toys and learning tools from Lost Arrow's on-site center.

Garaway regularly monitors the home child-care centers with announced and surprise visits. "Baby-sitting is not acceptable," Garaway said.

Hired in 1985 to direct Lost Arrow's on-site center, Garaway earned a bachelor's degree in child development from Cal State Northridge and a master's in early childhood education from Cal Lutheran University.

Child-care professionals describe the Lost Arrow-sponsored network as a model for providing and promoting quality services, saying it offers a community service by helping to respond to a need that is far from fulfilled. In Ventura County, only 17,153 children of the 72,955 who need day care receive it, according to Sylvia Preston, resource and referral department manager for Child Development Resources in Oxnard.

Although Garaway suggests prices, the network providers set their own, so prices vary. Garaway proposes charges that range from $32.50 a week for school-age children up to $100 a week for infants and toddlers.

Parent Yvonne Menard said she interviewed providers in and out of the network and found a vast difference. When she looked outside the network, she came across homes where there was no organized location for the children to play in, "toys were dirty, broken, the TV on, smoking."

She placed her son Jeffrey, 2, with Denise Salazar, a mother of three, president of the Ventura County Day Care Assn. and the first to join the Lost Arrow-sponsored network.

In her home, Salazar teaches six children to share, take turns, converse politely and put their toys away after they are finished using them. "We learn a lot of social skills here," she said.

Salazar has equipped her living room with puzzles, books and a variety of plastic cars and toys. Velcro-backed animals hang on the wall next to the baskets of dress-up clothes and hats. One wall in the math and science area is covered by a cartoon mural of a zoo.

The network seems to have few critics, although Ventura child-care provider Dave Friend, who runs a center for 12 children out of his home, has differed on some philosophical points with Garaway. Friend, who is not a member of Garaway's network, questions her emphasis on accreditation, and says some providers may be put off by Garaway's requirements of training and expensive liability insurance.

"Some of the providers who are doing day care are intimidated the minute you say 'school.' They cringe at that," Friend said.

Friend also noted that some providers might not be able to afford to pay a liability insurance premium. "Just because you have accreditation doesn't mean you're a loving, caring, safe person to take care of a child," he said.

Despite that, Friend said that Garaway's child-care network has helped improve the area. "People have copied what she's done, and other programs have become better."

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