RICHMOND, JUNE 4 -- Virginia Gov. Gerald L. Baliles pledged today to promote legislation to increase the availability of affordable child day care in the state and called on Virginia businesses to make child day care an employe benefit.

Opening a two-day governor's conference on child care, Baliles stressed a growing demand for day care by working parents and said it is in an employer's best interest to help meet the need.

"Studies show that company child care programs improve recruitment, retain valuable employes, increase morale and reduce absenteeism and turnover," he told an audience of about 400 experts in child care from around the state. "In short, the provision of child care is more than a family problem, it is an economic problem, a productivity problem."

Government officials and child-care advocates attending the conference will make recommendations Friday for developing what Baliles described as a "comprehensive, statewide day care system" with the cooperation of government, businesses and the public.

He called on the conferees to seek ways to develop consistent child care requirements throughout the state and to ensure local enforcement of standards.

Baliles said that more than half the mothers in Virginia with children under 6 work outside the home. Of 300,000 children in the state with working mothers, as many as 130,000 may be cared for in unregulated settings, he said.

He noted a particular need for care for infants, handicapped children and sick children.

"If I had to characterize our predicament with a single word, that word would be 'frustration.' And wherever frustration develops, politics should follow," Baliles told the group.

"Indeed, while some may yet appreciate the potential of child care as a political issue," he added, "I submit that it will soon break out as a major item on the nation's agenda."

Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children's Defense Fund, told the group that renewed national efforts toward welfare reform would force policymakers to confront the lack of adequate day care because such a lack can prevent a woman from entering the work force.

In Colorado, Edelman said, the state saved money by providing child care. Day care costs were 38 percent of what the state would have paid the mothers of those children in welfare benefits, she said.

According to conference documents discussed in a workshop today, there are no licensed child care facilities in Virginia for sick children.

Inez Tuck, president of an association in North Carolina that provides in-home care for sick children, said most day care facilities will not take sick children, leaving parents with few options but to stay home from work to care for them.

Tuck said centers specializing in the care of sick children have been opened in Minnesota and California. However, it is still a "new concept," she said, and in some cases may be hampered by a "societal value" that says mothers should stay home with their sick children.