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The Growing Day-Care Business

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Today, more than 22,000 day-care centers are in operation nationwide. Most are small agencies on tight budgets that provide services for about 80 to 100 children at an average cost to parents of around $50 to $60 per week, according to Richard Ruopp, president of Bank Street College of Education.

A few have become giant corporate chains. Kindercare, a firm based in Montgomery, Ala., provides day-care services for 60,000 children at some 800 centers in 39 states and Canada, according to Ann Mascari, the corporation's public-relations director. The company was founded in 1969 at a cost of $200,000 and now has operating revenues of $116 million. Last year, Kindercare reported a net profit of $6.5 million.

About 10 chains--including Kindercare, La Petite Academy (with more than 300 centers), Children's World, and National Child Care Centers Inc. (each with more than 120 centers), and Gerber Children's Centers (with more than 60 centers)--account for only about 5 percent of all licensed child-care centers in the U.S., observers say.

Between 1978 and 1982, the number of industry-sponsored child-care programs increased from 105 to 415. Today, an estimated 600 corporations provide day-care benefits for workers, according to Sandra L. Burud, project manager of the National Employer Supported Child Care Project. About 400 of these corporations have day-care centers in their office buildings, while another 200 either support community programs where workers' children are enrolled or reimburse their employees who send their children to such programs.

About 25,000 churches are involved in some type of child-care program, serving more than 2 million children, according to Eileen Lindner, head of the National Council of Churches' child-advocacy office in New York City.

An increasing number of unlicensed day-care centers--operating in basements and garages--have sprung up, particularly in urban neighborhoods. Many of the programs are outgrowths of informal family day-care operations that once took three or four children but have expanded to meet the growing need, according to Mr. Ruopp. These programs raise concerns about the "safety" of the children they serve and about "the adequacy and competency of the caregiver," according to Mr. Ruopp.

Close relatives continue to provide the bulk of child-care services nationwide. According to The General Mills American Family Report, 1980-81, 48 percent of families that had child-care arrangements relied on "other family members."

In earlier years, the "other family members" were grandparents, but now, they too are working, according to the report. As a result, much of the supervisory responsibility falls on the shoulders of brothers and sisters who are "not much older than the children themselves," notes Raymond C. Collins, project director of the Department of Health and Human Service's agency for children, youth, and families.

The General Mills study reports that 65 percent of working parents with children at home had no child-care arrangements other than care they provided themselves. About 23 percent of families that had child-care arrangements in 1980-81 relied on "paid help in the home"; 19 percent sent their children to day-care centers; 18 percent relied on friends and neighbors; 16 percent made arrangements with paid help in a neighbor's home; and 10 percent used activity programs provided by schools before and after the school day.

The report was based on a nationwide survey conducted by the pollster Lou Harris.--sr

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