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Backup Child Care Eases the Burden of Tax Time for Accountants With Kids

April 12, 1998|NANCY RIVERA BROOKS

The annual springtime tax ritual adds up to very long hours and plenty of weekend work for accountants, tax preparers and everybody else involved in the April 15 festivities.

That equals child-care problems for any tax types with tots.

Karen Jong, a tax manager at the Big Six accounting firm of Coopers & Lybrand and the mother of two, finds herself in the office at least a few Saturdays during tax season.

But her child-care complications are simplified because Coopers & Lybrand has contracted with Children First, a backup child-care center in downtown Los Angeles, to care for the children of employees who must spend extra hours in the office at tax time.

The facility is part of a chain of backup centers operated by Children First Inc. of Boston. Backup child care, which fills in the gaps when regular child care isn't available, is being offered by more companies but is still relatively rare.

Depending on client request, Children First centers will open Saturday or Sunday and on weekdays before and after its regular operating hours. During tax season, the L.A. branch is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays for Coopers & Lybrand employees.

Parents are able to dig into their work knowing that their children are secure and entertained at the well-equipped center, which is only two blocks from the Coopers & Lybrand office.

"It's wonderful," Jong said. "I drop my kids off, and they love going there."

Most companies hit periods of extra-heavy work, but few industries face such a universal deadline as the accounting and tax-preparation business does.

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Accounting firms were once the domain of men, but the companies, particularly the big ones, have been working hard during the last decade to increase the number of women at all levels, including the partner level. And that means a rise in the number of working moms. Of course, working dads have child-care problems, too, but throwing moms into the employment mix doubles the chance that somebody's parent is working on the weekend.

In its annual October listing of the 100 best companies for working moms, Working Mother magazine noted that accounting firms are "playing catch-up, trying to reverse years of discrimination." The companies--Coopers & Lybrand, Deloitte & Touche, KPMG Peat Marwick and Price Waterhouse--are nearing the 10% level of female partners, up from 4% in 1990.

All of the accounting firms on the list said they offer child care or subsidize extra child-care costs during tax season at some offices. Nearly three-quarters of the firms on the Working Mother list offer some kind of backup care.

In previous years, Coopers & Lybrand's downtown Los Angeles office would hire child-care professionals on Saturdays during tax season and operate "Camp Coopers" in a converted training room, said Bob Harper, partner in charge of human resources. This year, Coopers went with Children First, which provides backup child care during the week for Coopers and several other downtown employers.

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Between 10 and 15 families have used Children First regularly this season for Saturday care, he said. About 40 families from the accounting firm use the center for weekday care during its normal operating hours of 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.

"Our objective here is to try to ease the burdens of our people any way we can," Harper said. "They don't have to worry about child care or end up burdening a spouse or family member or friend, because that's what people have to resort to" when called on to work on weekends.

"Our employees are working hard on client matters but are still free to leave and have lunch with their children," he said. "It's a benefit not only to the employee but also to the employer."

Deloitte & Touche and Price Waterhouse both contract with Children First during the week, but said they found scant employee demand for Saturday care this year, an option both companies previously have provided.

"We would have been willing, but there was little interest," said Janis MacRae, Deloitte & Touche human resources director in Los Angeles.

But Deloitte employees are plenty interested in the back and shoulder massages offered every Thursday during the tax season, MacRae said.

The weekday backup helps, too, because days off are scarce during the busy season, said Beth Drake, an audit manager at Deloitte & Touche.

"We don't get holidays in public accounting from New Year's to Memorial Day," said Drake, the mother of a 3-year-old girl and a 5-year-old boy. "School holidays are a big problem.

"It's such a relief" to know that the backup center] is there, Drake said. "It's really something psychologically I appreciate, having them close to the office."

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Has your company developed an interesting way to help employees balance work life and family life? Write to Balancing Act, Business Section, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053, or e-mail nancy.rivera.brooks@latimes.com

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