The wave of stories on child care abuses that has appeared in the press recently is unnerving. These stories have caused parents to question even the most positive of child care situations, bringing to the fore the deepest fears working parents have about leaving their children in the hands of someone else. And they have caused sponsors of child care facilities to suspend or withdraw their support.
These consequences are unfortunate, because available, affordable quality child care is urgently needed. It has been reported that more than 60 percent of American mothers with children under the age of 6 now work outside the home.
For most parents, in-home care is not possible; group care is a necessity. But while quality group care may be obtainable for some, either the price is too high or the waiting lists too long.
One very good answer: parent-run child care centers at or near work sites.
In the fall of 1982, several staff members of the U.S. Senate decided to organize an effort to establish such a center for U.S. Senate employees. While some thought that trying to set aside space on the Hill for child care was a futile exercise, the reality of the current congressional work force made it possible. More and more women are in positions of importance, and more and more men are taking greater responsibility for child care. After an employee-wide survey, a proposal to the Senate Rules Committee and allocation of minimal start-up costs and space, the Senate Employees' Child Care Center became a reality.
The center is located a block from the Senate office buildings, and it is, in the truest sense, a parent-run operation. It is a nonprofit corporation governed by a nine-member board, most of whom are parents of children enrolled in the center. There are places for a combination of about 45 full-and part- time children, ages 18 months to 4 1/2 years. The center's operating budget is derived from weekly tuitions paid by the parents and fund-raising successes of the board and supporters. Tuitions are kept in an affordable range, with financial assistance available to those parents with lower incomes. The parent-member board of the center supervises the budget, staffing and curriculum and hires and monitors the performance of the director, the key figure in any center's success.
After less than a year of operation, the facility is now filled to capacity and has a waiting list. And the lessons learned by participants so far have been invaluable. The principal benefit, of course, is the proximity of the center and the children to the parents. Parents can, and are encouraged to, visit regularly. They can assist with certain staff responsibilities and can have lunch with their children or share a special activity. In addition to membership on the board, parents are required to contribute at least two hours' service a month to the center.
The center has meant that parents have been able to spend less of their energies worrying about their children and more on their job responsibilities. In emergencies, parents can be at a child's side in a matter of minutes. Gone are those tension-filled drives through rush-hour traffic when a parent, leaving work a little late, must hurry to meet a 6 p.m. closing time at a day care center. Participating parents even claim that their productivity and enjoyment of work have risen.
As a country, we still have a long way to go in the field of child care. Parent-run, work-site child care, such as the Senate Employees' Child Care Center, is a creative solution that should be established by employees, encouraged and supported by employers, facilitated by the government and cheered by the public.