Saying "Children are the next generation and if we don't do right by them, they won't do right by us," a psychologist at the Veterans Administration Hospital formally dedicated a child-care center for dependents of federal employees.

The ceremony Wednesday at the hospital was a collaboration among employees of the Internal Revenue Service, the VA Hospital and staff at Fort Douglas."Why am I involved? It's been the right thing to do," said Scott Hill, psychologist and chairman of the board of directors for the new center. "So many times we are forced to react to that which life hands us. We're helping Uncle Sam do something he doesn't normally get to do. I am saddened that child care is thought of as a woman's issue. It should be and is a gender-blind issue."

The center, called First Friends, is licensed to care for 60 children over age 2. An application to care for infants and toddlers is pending. According to center director Cyndy Fobert, 27 children are enrolled, half of them part time, with three teachers and the director. Each week the center will add teachers and young clients until it has 50 children.

Ten slots will be kept open so the center can accept children whose parents have to work emergency shifts at the hospital. And down the road, Fobert expects the center to operate 24 hours a day. Meals are provided through Primary Children's Medical Center.

The dedication was timed to coincide with activities celebrating the U.N. World Summit for Children, which opens Sunday and will attract national leaders from 70 countries.

The center is expected to reduce parental stress and increase recruitment and retention of staff, said W.L. Hodson, VA Hospital director. He said that fund-raisers, donations and fees will pay for the center's operation. No tax money is used.

Carol Fay, district IRS director, said on-site child care is a great morale booster.

The center is one of a mere handful of on-site child care providers, said Dianne Yancey, director of the new Office of Child Care. "This center is a marvelous step forward.

"Child care is a very pro-family thing. Child care didn't come first. Working mothers came first and had a need. That need is being answered."

During the ceremony, representatives from the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Utah Military and Veterans Affairs Committee presented donations to the center.