Each weekday morning, the LaCour women rise, dress and carpool to the Stride Rite Corp. in Boston. At the shoe factory, 25-year-old Nellie heads to her job as an order processor; 5-year-old Tawana begins a day of structured play at the company's in-house child-care center.
"During the day I can go down and have lunch with her or visit on a break," says Nellie LaCour, who pays $16 a week for the service. "If she's getting over a cold I can check on her or give her medicine.
"She's been going to the center since I started work here two years ago, and she's learning a lot more than she did when I used to drop her off at a babysitter's house -- which cost $25 a week. We get to see each other more now, too, so it's nice for both of us."
On-site child care, like that offered at the Stride Rite Children's Center, is one answer ot the vital -- and sometimes disturbing -- question, "Who's minding the kids?"
As mothers of preschool children continue flocking to the workplace (45 percent of women with children under age 6 were in the labor force in 1979), "Employers and labor representitives are recognizing the child-care need as a major concern of employes and are exploring ways to alleviate it," says a recent report from the Department of Labor's Women's Bureau.
Their 1978 survey reports day-care centers sponsored by 14 government agencies, 75 hospitals, 9 industrial firms and 7 labor unions across the United States.
Since that time, six additonal industry-sponsored child-care centers have opened -- including Broadcasters Child Developement Center in the District, initiated by members of a local broadcasters association with financial assistance from four television stations and one radio station.
A 250-child center at Intermedics in Freeport, Tex.; a 72-child center at Zales Corp., Dallas, Tex.; a 40-child center at Hoffman La Roche, Clifton, N.J., and two operated by Living and Learning, a child-care corporation.
Living and Learning leases space from the Allendale Insurance Co. in Johnston, R.I., and United Mutual Life Insurance Co. in Portland, Maine. The insurance companies guarantee a minimum enrollment, and Living and Learning provides a 10 percent discout to employees.
"Benefits to the employer," notes the Labor Department report, "include an increase in the ability to attract employes, lower absenteeism and job turnover, a more positive attitude of the employees toward both employer and work, favorable publicity and an improvement in community relations."
Of the centers that have closed, major reasons were "escalation of subsidies to amounts greater that the employer is willing to provide, a discrepency between the number of child-care slots provided and the number needed, administrative problems, and the need for use of facility in other capacities." a
The key to setting up and running a successful company-sponsored center, says Stride Rite Center director Miriam Kertzman, is "careful planning, company support, parent participation and outside sources of funding."
Stride Rite's center started in 1971 as an offshoot of a community group's request that the company's philanthropic foundation help fund a community child-care center.
"They figured, if we're going to help fund a center," says Kertzman, formerly East Boston's Head Start program director, "why not make it for employe children too."
Beginning with 30 children -- 15 employes' and 15 from the community -- the center has grown to accomodate 50 children, age 2 3/4 to 6.(Twenty-seven are employes' and 23 are from the community.)
The cost of running the center is about $60 per week, per child. Employe parents pay 10 percent of their weekly gross pay, and community parents pay the state on a sliding-fee scale.
Including children from the community has several advantages, says Kertzman. "We receive about $60 per week per child from the State Department of Social Services to provide those 23 slots. And it helps relations with the community -- making our population an ideal mix of children."
The center occupies former office space on the first floor of the plant, which employes about 700 people. "It cost about $25,000 to renovate and equip the original area," says Kertzman. "Total start-up costs were about $40,000."
The facility has been enlarged several times, with $46,000 in company funding supplemented by government subsidies and non-financial sources of support. Examples: A federal program reimbursed 75 percent of the cost of installing the kitchen; a contract with the state school lunch and nutrition bureau pays for about 70 percent of food costs.
Of their $144,000 total estimated operating budget for 1980, the company will pay $42,800, the school lunch program $20,000, the Department of Social Services $65,000 and employes $16,000.
"We are a separate corporation," says Kertzman. "We have our own charter, board of directors and insurance. The company has no legal responsibility for its operation."
Ten staffers and several volunteers run the center, with personnel costs reduced somewhat through affilialtion with high-school and college-intern projects and teacher-training programs. Contracts with federal "New Careers" program fund tuition and part of the salary for professional training.
The center is open from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., to accomodate parents on different shifts. After breakfast, the children's activities include math and reading readiness, cooking, drama and field trips.
"We have interns from local hospitals working as teacher aides during their pediatrics rotations," says Kertzman. "And the children are taken on a rotating basis to the pedodontic department at Boston University's Dental School for dental care."
A side benefit for the company: "They bring down new designs in shoes to wear-test on the children."
In response, says Kertzman, to "the hundreds of requests I get a year from company personnel departments, employe groups and child-care professionals," Stride Rite has summarized information in a free booklet, "How We Do It." sKertzman also runs a monthly two-hour information-sharing session for persons interested in visiting the center.
"Industry-sponsored day care is extremely cost-effective," she says, "since the company is already paying for heat, light, telephones, maintenance and other services.
"It's an untapped, last frontier of hope for the millions of preschoolers without adequate care. With the taxpayer's revolt, it would be rough going for the government to start funding centers.
"In one way or another we pay for child care," she says, and then without hesitation makes this comparison:
"In Boston in 1978, it cost about $28,000 a year to maintain a child in a juvenile detention center and $3,000 a year per child for a child-care center." j