Day car professionals are beginning to address themselves to needs of parents of handicapped children.

"When we surveyed the parents of handicapped children in Northern Virginia, we found the biggest request, the number one need, was for day car service," reported Bob Rosenstock of the Direction Service Center, a federally funded pilot program set up by the Fairfax County Board of Education to act as a referral service for parents of handicapped children in Northen Virginia. "We also found, in a survey of conventional child care are services, that there was very, very little out there for the parents of handicapped children."

It is not a completely bleak picture. Head Start programs must accept by federal mandate, handicapped children. At the Alexandria Y Head Start program, nine of the 90 children in the program are handicapped, some severely.

"The results have been dramatic," said Elizabeth Compagna, director of the program. "Some of the children get so much better and enjoy it so much, it's inspiring."

Head Start programs are usually limited to the children of parents who are employed or in training and who are earning incomes below the poverty level. Parents of handicapped children, however, need not meet income or employment requirements to qualify for the Head Start program.

Extended day programs at public schools also accept handicapped children.

Some day care centers accept children with minimal handicaps; a very few have taken children with severe handicaps.

The problems for day care centers is one of funding: They don't have the resources for consultants, additional staffing and staff training that care of the handicapped entails. However, several day care directors said that as mainstreaming of handicapped children into the public school system becomes more widespread, day care centers would probably respond.

Parents of handicapped children who are seeking day care services should contact the Direction Services Center, a one-stop information center that serves Northern Virginia.

"Parents with children with any kind of handicap, from the physical to the emotional to the learning disability kind of things, can call us and we will match them up with the kind of service they need, be it day care or summer camp or specialized care," said Rosenstock, who heads the project.

Parents can reach Direction Services Center at 971-0199. Those who desire area-wide information should contact Information Center for the Handicapped, 347-4986; Closer Look, 833-4160, or Joseph P. Kennedy Foundation, 331-1346. The foundation's Metropolitan Development Disability Digest lists day care resources for parents of the handicapped.