The bottom line, as well as lofty ideals, should motivate businesses to get involved in child care, local business leaders were told Thursday.
Quality child care is just as much an employer benefit as an employee benefit, noted Gordon Smyth, vice president of DuPont Chemical Corp., who was one of several participants in a national child care teleconference aimed at getting the country's businesses involved in child-care issues.In Salt Lake City, the teleconference was sponsored by KUED-TV and American Express Co. Some 80 senior management and human resource executives from local companies attended the broadcast in the KUED studios. Following the teleconference, a panel of local child care experts brought the child care crisis home to Utah.
Nationally, only about 3,000 of the nation's 6 million companies provide child care or child care support. But interest is growing, noted DuPont's Smyth, whose own company set up a child care referral service in Delaware, modernized maternity benefits and added paternity benefits for its employees.
In Utah, only a few businesses are actively involved in helping their workers find or pay for child care, although this too seems to be changing. Panel member, Kirma Jones, vice president of human resources for the Intermountain Health Care Corp., briefed the audience on IHC's plans to build an " off-site" child care center for its hospital employees.
There are several benefits to employers who provide child care for their employees, panelists agreed. Employees who can find quality care for their children are less likely to take sick days because of stress, are more productive and are more likely to stay with the company, they noted.
This translates into savings and profit for the companies, they added.
Establishing complete child care centers is not the only option for businesses interested in helping their employees solve the dilemma of child care.
Other options include providing "flextime" and "flexspace" arrangements, providing financial assistance for child care, and setting up consortiums with other businesses to establish other child care centers.
Nationally, according to AT&T corporate child care specialist, John Fernandez, half of all mothers with children under 1 year old now work. It is estimated that by 1995, nearly 50 million children under 13 will need some form of child care.
The care currently available is often far from adequate, largely because of minimal training standards, minimal wages and a high turnover rate among child-care workers, panelists said.
In Utah, the problem is compounded by the fact that child care is a "hidden crisis," said Mary Olsen, day care program specialist with Utah's Division of Family Services.
Although the Utah culture stresses the family setting, in which mothers stay home, the fact is that some 100,000 Utah children need child care and there are only about 18,000 available slots at licensed facilities.
The "frightening" part about child care in Utah, noted Kris Hale, director of the Child Care Connection referral service, is that much of the care is "underground" care provided by unlicensed people.
Child care in Utah costs an average of $2,000 a year about half of what it costs in other states. "That's not enough to provide quality care, unless you're abusing the caregiver," Olsen said.
While churches play a major role in child care in the rest of the country, in Utah, "you could count the number of churches on two hands," that are involved in child care issues, she said.
National and local panelists agreed that both governments and businesses must work together to solve the child care crisis not only to help the working parents, but to give their children the love and education they need so they can become the productive employees and parents of tomorrow.