Cheri Sheridan, founder and president of Play and Learn Corporate Child Care, has been involved with setting up corporate-sponsored child care for more than three years. Part of the way she makes her living is by persuading people who run companies that their work force might be better off if the company gave them a hand with child care. And she's figured out a way to do it.

"I use quotes from other CEOs who say it is worth doing," she says. "You really have to be able to demonstrate that other people are doing it. There's a certain sense of wanting to stay current. Very often the conversation starts out with: 'We don't have a child care problem here.' Then you start asking questions about how many men they have, how many women, what's the average age. And slowly the light may dawn that day care may be an issue here."

Then she brings out a summary sheet that tells employers what day care can do for them. There is the 1982 survey of 204 companies asking why employers offered day care. The number one reason was it helped with recruitment; the second reason was that it improved personnel relations, and third, was it stabilized the work force.

Sheridan, who has been involved with setting up the corporate-sponsored child care center at Tysons Corner, helped conduct the survey of businesses there to determine what their problems were. "Their number one problem was recruitment and morale was second." Day care suddenly looked like a good fit.

Her summary sheet cites a 1984 survey of 178 companies about the impact that provision of child care had on their work force: 90 percent of the companies said morale was positively affected, 85 percent said it had helped with recruitment, 83 percent said workers' satisfaction was improved, 65 percent said it reduced turnover and 53 percent said it reduced absenteeism.

Then there is the study of 700 employes of companies offering some sort of child care: 38 percent said the child care was a factor in their accepting the job, 69 percent said it was the reason they stayed with their employer and 63 percent said it created a more positive attitude toward their employer.

"At a Harvard seminar, they asked the CEOs what their work force was composed of," says Sheridan. "Seventy percent said it was dad at work and mom at home with the kids at the playground. The reality of it is that less than 25 percent of American families conform to that model. There was a recent Department of Labor study that showed that two-thirds of women in the work force are working to be self-sufficient: 25 percent are single, 12 percent are divorced, 5 percent are widowed, 4 percent are separated and 17 percent are married to men earning less than $15,000 a year. That sort of bypasses the comment that we wouldn't have this problem if women stayed at home.

"A lot of the decision makers have never had a day care problem in their life," says Sheridan. "One of my goals for PAL is to improve the quality of day care by making the CEOs aware."

PAL is presently operating two centers in large office complexes that offer the benefits of on-site day care without burdening companies with running a center. "Something that's been the most astonishing thing to me has been the impact on the kids," says Sheridan. Instead of having tears in the morning when a child is dropped off at a center, the children know their parents are nearby. "When the kid is hurt and needs stitches and mom or dad are there in 2 minutes it builds a sense of trust."

Sheridan has been working with children in day care for 10 years and has seen a shift that disturbs her. "I've seen so many kids that are screwed up. When I first started I worked with economically disadvantaged children. These kids had seen some pretty brutal things. The kids were withdrawing, they had temper tantrums and problems with aggressiveness. Now I'm working with more upscale children and you're seeing some of the same problems. You have a 5-year-old who has had 12 different day care givers," and no consistency in his upbringing.

"It costs an average of $3,500 to put a child in day care and it costs $30,000 a year to put a teen-ager through court-committed rehabilitation. By the time a child is 4 years old, 50 percent of what he's going to be as an adult has already been established in things like problem solving, curiosity, attitudes toward learning. It's a time when we really foul up by putting them in less than optimal care." And this should be of concern to communities and business leaders, as well as to parents, because this is the future work force.