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Governors Urge Expansion of Day-Care Services

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Washington--Day-care authorities and business leaders meeting last week under the auspices of the National Governors' Association called on state governments to encourage private industry to provide programs for their employees' children and to expand services available through public schools.

The conference, "Day Care: The Public-Private Partnership," was convened by Gov. Thomas Kean of New Jersey and Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas, who serve as chairman and vice-chairman of the human-resources committee of the governors' association. The conference featured a roundtable discussion by 21 representatives from government, business, education, and child care.

A Pressing Issue

"I believe that increasing the availability of good child care is one of the most pressing human-resources issues facing us today," said Governor Kean. "Increasingly, the success of American business depends on child care."

Today, more than half of American women with children under the age of 1 are working, according to the nga And almost 44.5 million children ages 13 and under have mothers who are working.

Because of what it termed "revolutionary" changes in the workforce, the nga in 1983 adopted a policy that recommends that states seek a balance of public and private support for families needing child care. The statement calls on the states to retain the responsibility for setting standards and monitoring program quality. And it urges the federal government to expand tax benefits and provide increased financial support for child care for low-income families.

The meeting here was aimed at exploring how the business community might best share the responsibility for child care.

Encouraging Industry

"A critical role for government is to educate employers to the benefits they get from providing child care--and the options which are available," Governor Kean said. "Gov6ernment can and should take a more active, more helpful, more friendly role in promoting and encouraging the concept of child-care benefits for employees. That role does not depend on large expenditures of your taxes."

Toward that end, states should provide tax credits for corporations and low-interest loan programs for nonprofit organizationsto encourage a private-sector role in child care, suggested Frances T. Roberts, director of Connecticut's office of child day care.

They could also establish state day-care offices, provide information and referrals, and establish pilot projects that can serve as examples to other employers, she said.

Business Initiatives

Because the availability of child care to private-sector employees can boost morale and productivity, businesses should not hesitate to set up centers on their premises, two industry leaders maintained.

Leonard Silverman, vice president for human resources at Hoffman-La Roche Inc., in New Jersey, said the benefits to companies that provide such services include reduced absenteeism and employee turnover, an improved ability to attract and retain skilled labor, and improved productivity and employee relations.

Calling day care "the issue of the 1980's," Mr. Silverman said corporations may find it more costly in the long run to ignore the need.

Arnold Hiatt, president and chairman of the board of Stride Rite Corporation, which has provided on-site day care for 14 years, agreed. Stride Rite spends $4,000 a year on each child in its day-care facility, he said. In comparison, the state of Massachusetts, where the corporation is located, spends $29,000 a year to keep a teen-ager in a juvenile-detention center.

"Day care is a right that every child is entitled to," Mr. Hiatt said. "It should be a constitutional right."

About 1,800 of the nation's 6 million corporate employers now provide day care for their employees, according to Dana Friedman, senior research fellow for the Conference Board, a New York-based research organization whose members are corporations.

Schools' Place

Although conference participants failed to reach a consensus on the role of the public schools in providing day care, they agreed that schools should be utilized to some extent to help fill the growing need for child care.

Ms. Friedman pointed out that school-sponsored child care is "worth considering" since schools are easily identifiable and generally seen as trustworthy. But she noted that parents in rural communities are more likely to view schools in a positive light than parents in urban areas.

Governor Clinton suggested that schools serve as one among many providers of child care, with employers, community groups, churches, and other groups providing other facilities.

Governor Kean agreed. "No single sector of society can do this alone," he said. "Working together, this is a problem that can and will be solved."

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