In November 1983, Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) met with a group of working women from the 10th District to find out what their concerns were for the 98th Congress. The answer was loud and clear: quality child care. Wolf subsequently formed a child care task force made up of parents and providers in his district, and the following summer he sponsored a conference for employers to let them know what they could do to meet their employes' child care needs -- and how this could help employers.
Wolf's district is one of the most expensive areas of the nation to live in, and it has the highest percentage of working women with small children, according to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. Only 14 percent of these children, however, were in identifiable day care centers or family day care homes -- a figure that raised the question of how many children are caring for themselves.
Wolf did not let his concern drop with the conference. In the year and a half that followed, he worked with a group of parents who are employed in the Crystal City area and with businesses and government agencies to try to set up a child care consortium to serve that complex. In November, he announced that an agreement had been reached between the Charles E. Smith Cos. -- which developed Crystal City -- and Crystal City Working Parents Inc. to establish a nonprofit, parent-run cooperative day care center in Crystal City. The agreement calls for the Charles E. Smith Cos. to spend $80,000 to build a 4,000-square-foot facility, and for the parent cooperative to raise operating funds from other employers in the area.
In addition, Wolf has been working with employers in the three other areas of his district that have the highest concentration of businesses and employes. Today he is scheduled to announce three child care projects in those areas. Tytran has agreed to fund a $15,000 feasibility study of day care in the Tysons Corner area. Rouse and Associates has agreed to construct a facility in the Fair Oaks Corporate Center, which will be operated by PAL Corporate Child Care. The Henry A. Long Co. has agreed to include facilities in the Westfield Development along the Dulles Access Road, which will also be run by PAL.
No federal money is involved in the projects, says Wolf. "In these days of less federal money, it's a way of corporations doing something for the family. With regard for corporations, there's a greater chance that they'll keep their employes," he says. Wolf is a firm believer in the studies that show reduced absenteeism and turnover in companies that provide day care. That, however, is not the genesis of his interest.
"I have five children," he says, "and I serve on the House Select Committee on Children, Youth and Families. What I'm talking about is family and parental involvement. What do you do if you're a single person and have to work? You can put your children in a place that can be very negative, or you can put them someplace that can be very positive. I don't want to be a big spender type and say fund another half-a-billion-dollar program. I felt we should do it in the private sector. The Economic Recovery Act of 1981 put some tax incentives for corporations to do this. I'm thinking of the individuals rather than the corporations: How do you make life so you can help the kids?
"If a child is going to be in a day care facility, why have the mother or father spend an hour driving away from it? Would it not be better to have the child in the auto with the parent?" Child care near the parent's place of employment, he says, allows a parent to have lunch with the child and be close to the child if there is a problem. "By having parental involvement, you know what kind of facility it is. The parents are running the facility. There's an opportunity for parents to drop in unannounced at any time of the day."
Wolf describes the four projects as model programs. "We're trying to create an atmosphere where people know it's possible to meet a need that is real and to do it in a way where people can see it's good for the children, the parents and the business community."
Wolf is generally considered a conservative, and he says he is deeply troubled by "the breakdown of the family." But unlike many people who have been wringing their hands over that -- or using it for crass political profit -- Wolf has been helping families cope with the hard realities of modern life. "You can't go back," he says. "You've got to deal with where we are."
For working parents and their children, he is one member of Congress who has used his influence to help make where we are a better place. We could use more like him.