Montgomery County Executive Charles Gilchrist called yesterday for a huge increase in the county's child-care services, with an array of projects and programs that would cost the county more than $3 million.
Calling current services inadequate, Gilchrist said at a press conference yesterday that he wants to spend about $1.6 million to subsidize day-care centers around the county, establish 25 all-day kindergarten programs, and add money and staff to child-abuse and child-nutrition services.
In announcing the program, which is part of the proposed 1986 budget he is to present to the County Council today, Gilchrist said declining federal funds and dramatically rising reports of child abuse made the project especially urgent.
He also cited a recent county study that showed that 21,000 county children -- including three-quarters of all children aged 12 and 13 -- are "latchkey" children who come home to empty houses after school.
County Council member Esther Gelman, who represented the council at the press conference, said she strongly supports Gilchrist's proposals. "No matter what we do, it isn't enough," she said later.
However, the council will have to examine Gilchrist's entire budget before deciding whether to support the child-care program -- or whether it can afford to do so, she added. Because Gilchrist has not yet presented his entire budget, Gelman said, it is unclear where the money is coming from, or whether any other important programs would have to be sacrificed.
According to county officials, there are about 65,000 children under age 14 living in the county; currently registered day-care centers in the county can accommodate close to 12,000 children.
Under Gilchrist's proposed program, $100,000 would be spent next year to renovate public buildings for day care, and $35,000 would be spent to improve inspection services to reduce delays for those trying to obtain day-care licenses.
Gilchrist said the county-operated Children's Place in Rockville will open on July 1. It will provide model child-care programs, he said, but more importantly, provide a training ground for people planning to run day-care centers elsewhere.
Another part of the program will be to coordinate county agencies and departments on the subject of child care. School Superintendent Wilmer S. Cody, for instance, said the school system is prepared to donate transport services and surplus school space for day care, and will examine its school curriculum to cater to the needs of latchkey chilren.
Cody said he would also ask parent-teacher associations and school principals to look for sites for possible child-care programs.
Gilchrist said the federal supplemental food program for disadvantaged women, infants and children is inadequate. He recommended that $17,000 in county money be added and another $300,000 placed in reserve in case the federal program is cut.
"We think, in a rich county like this, that it's an intolerable situation that there should be pregnant mothers, or mothers of young children, who don't have enough food to eat," Gilchrist said.
Gilchrist said his budget will also propose two additional deputy sheriffs, to help enforce child-support payments, to additional police officers to work on child-abuse cases.