An estimated 60 per cent of all mothers in the District of Columbia work and for them, the question of who takes care of their children while they are away from home is of vital importance.

The quality of care available for her children can mean the difference in whether a mother performs well on her job, whether she enjoys what she does and, in some cases, whether or not she works at all.

Throughout the nation the number of working mothers with children under 6 has tripled since 1950. Thirty-seven per cent of all mothers with children under 6 and 45 per cent of mothers with children under 18 are gainfully employed, according to a survey made last year by the Bureau of Labor statistics.

Mary Keyserling, the former director of the U.S. Department of Labor's Women's Bureau, who offered the estimate that up to 60 per cent of District mothers work, also said that she expected the percentage to grow.

Neither the quantity nor the quality of child care has kept pace with the need. With families scattered, the working mother's mother is rarely available to help out. Fewer women are applying for jobs as housekeepers, and the rapid growth of day care centers in the 1960s has tapered off due to decreased federal financial support.

Despite the difficulties, it is possible to find satisfactory, dependable and even model care. As a service to working parents, the District Weekly has compiled this guide to child care services in the District.

Licensed day care centers are covered in this week's report. Next week, the District Weekly will discuss other types of child care and how to find them.

Parents can expect to pay around $35 per week per child for full day care at a center unless they are eligible for subsidies.

The subsidies, available through Title 20 of the Social Security Act and District funds, are on a sliding scale and vary with income and family size. A family of four with income of no more than $8,603 would pay 4 per cent of their child care costs; a family of four with income of no more than $12,829 would be charged 20 per cent of care Starting Oct. 1, a new fee scale based on the median income of District residents will go into effect.

Parents needing information about subsidized child care shoudl call 629-5954.

The licensing and certification division of the department of human resources (629-5846) published a list of licensed day care centers and family day care homes.

The District government does not publish a guide on how to choose a child facility, but the Day Care and Child Development Council, 622 14th Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20005 (telephone 638-2316) publishes two guides: "Choosing Child Care: A Guide for Parents" ($3), and "Checking Out Child Care: A Parent Guide" ($1).

Day Care Centers

In the District, a day care center is a child development facility catering to children 2 through school age and providing an educational program, meals and sleeping quarters.

Child care specialists agree that, at their best, day care centers can provide young children, especially those aged 3 to 5, with the benefits of intellectual stimulation and socialization.

"Many people think of day care as custodial care, but it can be much more than that," said Thomas Taylor, director of the National Child Day Care Association. "It can offer comprehensive care including education, recreation, nutrition, socialization and emotional support to meet the needs of children and their parents. It should reach out and meet the total needs of the child."

Child care specialists define a good center as one that has teachers who have backgrounds in early childhood development, a low ratio of staff to children, a variety of attractive equipment, areas suited to different activities, a plan to keep the day varied but comfortable, and a program that invites parents to participate in planning, activities and child development seminars.

While each center must be judged individually, day care specialists agree that one of the most important factors in providing good care is the child-to-adult ratio.

"The lower the adult-to-child ratio is, the more individual attention the child gets," said Helen Taylor, chairman of the D.C. Council's Advisory Commission on Child Developments.

Centers with social service contract (centers authorized to care for children who receive federal subsidies) often provide the best care because they meet stricter federal requirements for adualt-to-children ratios, according to child care experts.

While regulations vary with age groups, federal requirements average one adult to every five children. District licensing requirements start at 1-to-4 for 2-year-olds and go up to 1-to-15 for 5 through 14-year-olds.

The Daparment of Health, Education and Welfare is rewriting the federal requirements on staffing and expects to have the new regulations completed by October. In the meantime, it is unclear whether centers can be required to abide by the former standards, said a local official. District officials said they are urging centers to follow the old standards until the new ones are issued.

Regardless of how they are organized, day care centers cannot operate legally without a license, issued annually by the Department of Human Resources.

Child care specialists from the licensing and certification office make one annual visit for visits during the year. Licensing requirments encompass fire, safety, staff ratios, health requirements for staff and children, nutritional program, and all facets of the developmental program. The director of a center must have a master's degree in early childhood education or meet similar requirements in background and experience. A teacher must have a bachelor's degree in early childhood education or meet similar experience and education criteria.

"Our licensing standards are better tan anything we ever had before, but they are a minimum standard," said Helen Taylor of the child development commission. She added that she feels the District government "needs to be working toward" standards equal to those established by the federal government.

Once parents have located a licensed center offering the hours and services they require, how do they assess the quality of care?

"Parents should took at the physical facility. Is it safe, healthy, stimulating?" suggested Helen Taylor, "Equipment should be appropriate for the age level, but parents need to be educated to assess this."

"Every child should have a chair of his own and a place to sit, a locker for equipment and a cot of his own to sleep on. There should be blocks, books, records, housekeeping equipment so a child can learn to use his or her imagination. Play, to a child, is work," said Thomas Taylor.

"Outside," he continued, "there should be climbers on a grassy or safe turf, and wheel toys like trikes and wagons. Inside, there should be a quiet corner where a child can go to sit and calm down. There should be a chance for water play because this is extremely soothing.There needs to be varied kinds of equipment because children have so much curiosity and short attention. They are finding out about life and they need the opportunity to find diversity in life."

Communication between center and parents is also important. "Parents very definitely need to know what goes on in the program. Head start research shows that when parents are involved, children do better in school," said Thomas Taylor.

"There needs to be a continnum between center and home, and it is up to the center to provide parents with education about early childhood development and information on what goes on in the center all day. It's not in the child's best interest to have one set of guides and disciplines at home and another at the center," said Herman Cook, child care specialist with DHR's licensing and standards office.

After-School Car

Availability of after-school or extended-day care, a form of care keyed to school age children and often located at the schools is increasing. After-school programs are not licensed unless they are part of a day care center program. According to Cook, DHR will soon amend its regulations to include licensing of after-school care.

One of the problems parents may find with after-school programs is that some close on school holidays or when bad weather closes schools.

"We need a study on what after-school care is," said Thomas Taylor. "Some programs are day care and some are recreation. In a recreation prorgram, children can come and go when they please. In day care we expect them until their parents pick them up. Other programs are in between."

Before deciding on an after-school program, parents should check the activities. It is not always easy for a child who has spent the day in school to continue with a heavily structured program.

The same atmosphere and warmth a parent looks for in a day care center should be apparent in the after-school program.

Guide to Day Care Centers

In compiling this guide to day care centers, the District Weekly surveyed the approximately 275 licensed centers in the District by mail and telephone. The listing that begins on this page is of the 108 full-day, year-round centers that responded to the survey. Information on fees, hours and services was provided by the centers.

For a complete list of licensed centers, including seasonal and part-time facilities, call the Licensing and Certification Division, Department of Human Resources, at 629-5846.

For a list of Northern Virginia day care centers call the state Department of Welfare, regional office, at 241-1880; or the Office for Children in Fairfax County at 691-3175; the Child Care Office in Arlington at 558-2234; the Department of Social Services in Alexandria at 549-7707. To get a list of Montgomery County centers call the health department at 279-1997 or Four C's at 279-1773. In Prince George's County; a list of centers can be seen and copied at the health department. Department employees will give names of centers in a specific area over the telephone, call 794-6660.