Day care professionals are beginning to address themselves to the needs of parents of handicapped children. When a federally funded pilot project in Northern Virginia surveyed such parents, researchers found that the major need was for day care service. They also found, in a survey of conventional child care services, that there was very little available for working parents of handicapped children.

"In Montgomery and Prince George's Counties, service is also very, very spotty," said Penny Smith, assistant coordinator for the Central Maryland Regional Direction Center, a federally funded information and referral service for parents or the handicapped themselves.

It is not completely bleak picture. Head Star programs must accept, by federal mandate, handicapped children as 10 perent of their school population. Head Start programs are usually limited to the children of parents who are employed or in training and whose incomes are below the proverty level. Parents of handicapped children, however, usually need not meet income or employment requirements to qualify for the Head Start program.

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

"As mainstreaming of the handicapped within the school system becomes mor widespread, day care centers will probably start to respond," said Margaret Howard, director of the Montgomery County Child Day Care Association.

Howard, who runs 10 day care centers in suburban Maryland, said she had twice put in a proposal to the state for funding to run a day care program for the handicapped. Her project has not been funded.

"I haven't given up yet. There's a great need for a day care program that can offer the special service many handicapped children need," she said.

Parents of handicapped children who are seeking day care services should contact the Regional Direction Center at 952-4860 for specific Maryland referrals, or Information Center for the Handicapped, 347-4986, and Closer Look, 833-4160, for the Handicapped, 468-4367, may also be able to help. The Joseph P. Kennedy Foundation, 331-1346, publishes a Metropolitan Developmental Disability Digest which lists day care resources.

A Commission for Women booklet on day care will list resource and referral numbers for parents of handicapped children. For information on the booklet call 952-3383.