21, No. 11, Dec. 6, 2001
Task force lobbies for expanded
on-campus child-care services
By Sharita Forrest, Assistant Editor
(217) 244-1072; firstname.lastname@example.org
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 hadnt become a mother as a teen-ager,
she said she probably wouldnt 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. Thats 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 Unions 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 were well cared for."
A few blocks away, work continued on a $5.2 million expansion of the
campuss 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 CDLs 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 were
still about 13 months away from opening the doors were
getting people wanting to submit applications for it," said Brent
McBride, CDL director. "Normally I wouldnt start accepting
applications this far ahead, but were getting so many questions
from people were just putting it into our normal Nov. 15 enrollment
cycle, but its marked very clearly that its not [available]
until January 2003 so parents know what were 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.
"Im thrilled that theyre 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. "Its
wonderful. Its a wonderful facility. For the families and kids
who are going to be able to use it, its going to be terrific but
given the need, its 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 facilitys educational opportunities,
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.
"Its 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 theres 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 childrens illnesses.
"I have four kids," said Reilly, a media communications specialist
at WILL. "So it doesnt affect just me when Im 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 childs 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. "Were starting to lose men for the same reason:
They dont 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 were 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 thats 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 theyve 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 theyre hopeful that the countrys
changing social climate, in which workers have higher expectations from
their employers, and the campuss new chancellor, Nancy Cantor,
will make child care a high priority in the coming year.
"If were going to have a more diverse university, if were
going to bring more women into the university, if were 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 weve got this state budget crisis, we
just have to make sure that child care doesnt get pushed aside
by all of these demands."