This Monday, Capitol Hill Hospital is scheduled to open one of the first on-site day-care centers for hospital employes in Washington. How it started and why is an important story for this community, as employes and employers alike become more aware of the importance of adequate child care.

The Greater Washington Research Center, in a study published this June, estimated that more than 300,000 children under the age of 14 in the Washington metropolitan area have working mothers. While more than half the nation's mothers are working, the proportion of working mothers here is 18 points above the national average, making the highest proportion of any metropolitan area in the country. Child-care problems are particularly acute for the tens of thousands of children who live in single-parent homes.

Capitol Hill Hospital, a private hospital in Northeast, has a staff of some 700 people, about 70 percent of whom are women. Jackie Pollock, director of social services, remembers that she was eight months pregnant about a year and a half ago when Randall Rolfe, president and chief executive officer of the hospital, approached her about setting up a child-care center at the hospital. "He thought it would be a great benefit to the hospital staff, and would be a great help in recruiting nurses and retaining our good employes," says Pollock.

The hospital hired a consultant who developed a survey to find out what employes needed. "We received an overwhelming response," Pollock said. The hospital has spent some $40,000 to renovate a former storage area into a day-care center that meets plumbing and fire code requirements. The hospital's plant staff handled the renovations, installed cabinets for the children and painted the center. The hospital has spent some $10,000 to buy equipment for it. The children will use nearby Stanton Park for the outdoor recreational area city regulations require.

The child development program will be run by Capitol East Children's Center, with five teachers. "This is not a baby-sitting service," says Pollock. There are presently 20 children, ages 6 months to 4 years, enrolled in the program, which will open at 6:30 a.m. and close at 6 p.m. five days a week.

Capitol Hill Hospital is subsidizing half the cost of caring for each child. Employes will pay $35 a week for each child they enroll. "I can't explain to you the commitment the hospital has made and how enthusiastic the employes are about the program," says Pollock. "It has furthered their loyalty to the hospital, for them to feel the hospital is supportive of them and their children."

Employers such as Capitol Hill Hospital and think tanks such as the Greater Washington Research Center, as well as local governments, are beginning to respond to the growing pressure of child-care problems on working parents. Fairfax County, where more than half the mothers with children under 2 are working, is a leader among area jurisdictions in providing parents with a computerized, up-to-the minute listing of between 600 and 800 child-care providers. Judith Rosen, director of the county's Office for Children, said the office answered more than 2,000 requests for information and referral during July and August, doubling its volume since computerizing the service.

The Bureau of National Affairs, a Washington publishing company with more than 1,000 employes, has developed a proposal for the Council of Governments to coordinate a similiar information system that would list child-care providers throughout the metropolitan area. The COG board is scheduled to consider the proposal next week. BNA has pledged $5,000 in seed money to the project and this week met with some of the area's largest employers--including the Marriott Corp., Washington Gas Light, C&P Telephone, Honeywell Information, Woodward & Lothrop, Hechingers, and several hospitals--to gain their support. "This is a service that is available in at least a dozen cities, but not in Washington," says Jean Linehan, assistant to BNA's president.

Study after study has shown inadequate child care to be a major source of stress and absenteeism on the job, particularly among women. Joan Maxwell of the Greater Washington Research Center estimates that day care affects 20 percent of the 2.7 million parents and children living here. This community has an even greater stake than most in developing excellent child-care resources. Progressive companies and local government agencies that are awakening to the importance of day care to Washington area residents deserve to be commended.