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PUBLICATIONS Inside Illinois Vol. 21, No. 11, Dec. 6, 2001

Task force lobbies for expanded on-campus child-care services

By Sharita Forrest, Assistant Editor
(217) 244-1072; slforres@illinois.edu

Photo by Bill Wiegand
Babies on Parade Members of the Child Care Task Force and its supporters brought their children to the November board of trustees meeting to demonstrate the need for reliable on-campus child care. Maeve Reilly (center) and her son Aidan, with poster, wait for her turn to address members of the board during the public comment session.

Having her only child when she was a teen-ager was the smartest
career move she ever made, according to Abigail Salyers, professor of microbiology. If Salyers hadn’t become a mother as a teen-ager, she said she probably wouldn’t have borne children at all, given the tremendous demands of advanced study and a career in the sciences.

Although Salyers’ 40-year-old child is now closer to retirement age than the Terrible Twos, Salyers understands the pressures and problems faced by parents of young children. That’s why Salyers joined about 70 faculty and staff members from the Urbana-Champaign campus in lobbying the UI Board of Trustees for expanded on-site child-care services at its Nov. 14 meeting in Urbana.

Approximately 15 babies and toddlers accompanied their parents to the meeting in the Illini Union’s Pine Lounge as part of the "Babies on Parade" demonstration sponsored by the Child Care Task Force. Ellie Carpenter, 2 1/2, and Aidan Reilly, 4, helped Maeve Reilly, chair of the task force, present a poster-sized card to President James J. Stukel and board members. The card bore photos of several employees’ children and the appeal "Our mommies and daddies are better students and workers when they know we’re well cared for."

A few blocks away, work continued on a $5.2 million expansion of the campus’s child- care facility, the Child Development Laboratory Preschool (CDL), 1105 W. Nevada, Urbana. Provost Richard Herman initiated planning for the expansion in fall 1999, and the project was approved by the board of trustees in January 2000.

The expansion project will double CDL’s capacity from 96 to 192 children when the addition opens in January 2003. CDL will then begin serving a wider age range, offering care for infants as young as 6 weeks and children through age 4. CDL currently serves 2- , 3- and 4-year-olds, 56 of them in half-day preschool placements and 40 in full-day child-care placements. All of the new slots will be full-day placements.

"Now that word is starting to trickle out that the building is starting to get close to being finished – even though we’re still about 13 months away from opening the doors – we’re getting people wanting to submit applications for it," said Brent McBride, CDL director. "Normally I wouldn’t start accepting applications this far ahead, but we’re getting so many questions from people we’re just putting it into our normal Nov. 15 enrollment cycle, but it’s marked very clearly that it’s not [available] until January 2003 so parents know what we’re doing."

The demand for child-care services is high, especially for center-based care for infants, toddlers and 2-year-olds since few child-care centers in the community serve those ages, McBride said. CDL typically has received about 75 to 80 applications each year for its 16 half-day slots for 2-year-olds, McBride said.

Although task force members are pleased about the CDL expansion, they contend that the need for child care on campus far surpasses what CDL can provide, even with the expansion.

"I’m thrilled that they’re doing it," said Mark Leff, a professor in the department of history and member of the Work/Life Committee, an advisory group created by the provost in February 2000 to explore issues pertaining to employees’ family lives. "It’s wonderful. It’s a wonderful facility. For the families and kids who are going to be able to use it, it’s going to be terrific but given the need, it’s only a small response."

However, university administrators also are evaluating several additional options, according to Kathleen Pecknold, associate provost and director of academic human resources.

The board of trustees and university administrators chose the CDL expansion as a first course of action because it not only provided additional child care but also increased the facility’s educational opportunities, Pecknold said.

But administrators also are considering establishing a traditional day-care center under different scenarios, such as partnering with tenants at the research park to offer day care as an amenity for the tenants’ employees as well as for UI faculty and staff members and students. Another option would be contracting with a developer to build a center and with a vendor to operate it. A third possibility would be for the university to build and operate its own center, Pecknold said.

"It’s expensive," Pecknold said about child care. "So it would have to be examined in light of all the other priorities by the university. But I can tell you that there’s a real commitment to increasing child-care capacity on this campus."

Child Care Task Force members point to programs offered by other Big Ten universities as well as the UI Chicago and Springfield campuses, which they say could serve as models for a program on the Urbana campus.

Advocates contend services such as drop-in and sick-child care would benefit the university as well as working parents by decreasing absenteeism caused by school breaks and children’s illnesses.

"I have four kids," said Reilly, a media communications specialist at WILL. "So it doesn’t affect just me when I’m gone – my co-workers have to pick up the pieces."

In the fall 2000 Work/Life Committee survey, 74 percent of the 1,078 parents responding to the question said they had missed class or work as a result of a child’s illness.

In its final report, the committee recommended that in addition to expanding CDL, the university should investigate providing other on-site day-care services, including sick-child and drop-in care.

Advocates contend that on-site child care would also have a positive impact on faculty and staff recruiting and retention.

Salyers, a 20-year employee of the university, said child care is "almost always" mentioned by job applicants visiting campus, and she believes that a growing number of women are not even considering careers in academia in part because private industries are willing to provide day care.

"Industry has figured out that it is a good way to recruit," Salyers said. "We’re starting to lose men for the same reason: They don’t want to have to make the choice between having a family and having a career."

Pecknold concurred, saying that employee support mechanisms such as day care have become increasingly important recruitment tools for employers.

"In many ways we’re competing both with industry and with institutions that recognize the importance of these factors in recruitment and retention," Pecknold said. "The more we can help our employees balance their personal and their work lives, the more attractive we are as an employer."

Child Care Task Force members say that one impediment that’s stopped the university from providing traditional day care is the UI Act, a 1993 state law indicating employees must pay all costs of care provided at university day-care centers. According to the act, care cannot be subsidized – a mandate that would preclude many low-income workers from using the facilities.
Child Care Task Force members say they’ve been lobbying state representatives to change the no-subsidies provision of the law; however, legislators want to ensure such action will be in accordance with university administration.

Likewise, the Work/Life Committee recommended in its final report that the university review the legality of providing subsidized care.

Task force members say they’re hopeful that the country’s changing social climate, in which workers have higher expectations from their employers, and the campus’s new chancellor, Nancy Cantor, will make child care a high priority in the coming year.

"If we’re going to have a more diverse university, if we’re going to bring more women into the university, if we’re going to have better morale within the university, then all of those things and a sense of ourselves as a community are partly dependent on having a better child-care service," Leff said. "I guess the sense of a lot of us is that there are so many priorities that are coming into conflict. Now that we’ve got this state budget crisis, we just have to make sure that child care doesn’t get pushed aside by all of these demands."


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