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Business Tips: Onsite child care

On-Site Child Care: A Solution to Work and Life Issues for Employees

(ARA) -- In boardrooms of some of Americas most prominent companies it is business as usual. But not all decisions being made in the executive offices involve mergers, technology advancements or corporate restructuring. Rather, some discussion involves decisions to integrate work and family issues, access to quality child care among them.

For Diane Cushman, Manager of Workforce Partnering at The St. Paul Companies, an insurance company headquartered in St. Paul, Minn., it is her job to "concern herself with issues that employees face relative to personal life that prevent them from contributing to their full potential at work."

The St. Paul discovered that access to quality, affordable child care was a barrier for employees returning to work after having a child. "We determined that to have the best of the person, we had to have the whole person," said Cushman. "So in the best interest of the company, and to help employees resolve personal issues quickly, we got into the business of providing work/life programs."

Polly Stephany, an underwriting analyst at The St. Paul, said she could not stand the thought of leaving her son 20 minutes away. "The knowledge that he is close, that in any situation I can be there immediately, is conducive to being a more productive employee."

In fact, nearly 10 million children are enrolled in day care nationwide. For families earning $1,200 to $2,999 per month, child care costs are 12 percent of their monthly income (Census Bureau of Labor Statistics).

National figures estimate that employers lose $3 billion annually for child-care related absences. Many argue that on-site child care alleviates some of these costs to employers.

Mark Cohn, CEO of Damark International, Inc., heads one of Minnesota's 35 companies that offer on-site child care. "Our center allows us to participate in an important solution that helps employees balance the complexity of work and family, while offering the assurance of quality care for their children."

While both The St. Paul and Damark offer on-site child care, their programs are different. Each is run by Childrens Home Society of Minnesota (CHSM). "We partner with companies to help them from their first thought of a child care program, through delivery of the services," said Jackie Olafson, director of the Child Care Division at CHSM.

"We worked with both companies to develop the most appropriate center for their needs," she said. "The corporate culture of the company plays an important role in the type of environment that is a fit for that center."

The issue of quality, affordable child care has become front and center on the national political scene as well. President Clinton recently proposed a $21.7 billion child care package. The package would eliminate income taxes for a single parent with one child with an income of $25,000 and child care costs of $2,500 and a married couple with two children, an income of $35,000 and child care costs of $4,050. The President's proposal also offers a tax break to companies that offer on-site care.

Today many businesses face recruitment and retention issues, asking how to attract and keep the best and brightest. For some, on-site child care is a valuable employee benefit as well as a sound business decision.

"It is important for a business to think about its responsibility to understand the family issues faced by its workforce as well as the larger issues," said Cohn. "Damark invested in on-site child care because it was the right thing to do."

For the company, this process takes time. Childrens Home Society started working with The St. Paul two years before their on-site center opened. Once a company recognizes its interest in assessing on-site child care as an option, an organization like Childrens Home Society of Minnesota can step in to provide guidance in development of the physical site, and partner with the company throughout the startup of the center. "On-site care is not the answer for every business. A company must do its homework to determine if it is the answer for them," says Olafson. "The company should look at needs assessment, cost analysis, space needs, references and provider selection," Olafson said.

"We profiled consumers and looked at the program and tried to match the two as best we could," said Cushman. Our research showed that concern for security and safety were high, as well as employees accessibility to their children. This information helped us design our facility."

For some companies providing on-site child care does not make sense, but partnering with a community program may be an appropriate solution.

In Rochester, Minn. there was a shortage of quality, affordable infant and toddler care. Tutti Sherlock, executive director of Child Care Resource and Referral, Inc., said they went to IBM and asked for help.

The result was CHSM Valley High East, which was built next to the IBM facility. The center opened in 1991 and serves 70 children. "In this case the community partnered with private industry to create a solution," she said.

Parents who benefit from on-site child care can't say enough about it. Jacqueline Regis, an employee at The St. Paul wrote a note of thanks to the center's director saying "I am so very appreciative of the exceptional, professional and caring environment you create. One worry I don't have during the day is whether my daughter is being taken care of. I don't take this for granted."

For more information, Jackie Olafson (612) 646-7771 or (800) 952-9302.

Courtesy of Article Resource Association,

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