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A Shortage of Hands to Rock the Cradle : Ways Sought to Ease Space Shortage for Child Care as More Women Take Jobs

<i> Times Staff Writer</i>

As their 2-month-old daughter, Samantha, slept in a plastic carrier, Cecilia and Stuart Maislin listened to a lecturer describe the “developmentally appropriate learning experiences” that their infant could receive--for $90 a week.

They were attending a promotional tour of the Children’s Learning Center, a new child-care facility in downtown Los Angeles that has not yet opened, and may not even be open by the time Cecilia Maislin hopes to return to work this month.

While the Maislins said they were looking for good quality care, although perhaps not quite so expensive, they found their first problem was even finding space for Samantha. So far, Children’s Learning Center was the couple’s best hope, even though it already had a waiting list.

Unable to Find a Place

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The Maislins had been unable to find a place either in Burbank, where they live, or in downtown Los Angeles, where Cecilia Maislin is a compensation specialist for Transamerica Life Cos. and Stuart Maislin is a sergeant with the Los Angeles Police Department.

“There are no openings, period,” Cecilia Maislin, 30, said.

Since Samantha is her first child, the space shortage surprised her. “I thought it would be a little easier,” she said.

But the need for space in licensed centers or day-care homes is no surprise to local officials and child-care experts. Among the 795,166 children under age 13 in Los Angeles County with working mothers, there is a shortage of 263,825 spaces countywide, according to a recent study completed by Crystal Stairs Inc., a child development agency in Inglewood. If trends remain the same, that shortage could increase to 347,375 by 1990.

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Harder Than Harvard

Finding space in a center, said Vivian Weinstein, chairwoman of the Los Angeles Mayor’s Advisory Committee on Child Care, “is worse than getting into Harvard.”

The need for child care has become an increasingly pressing issue as the percentage of California women who work has increased from 9% in 1940 to 50% today and a projected 66% by 1990. State aid to child care, the largest of any in the United States, has grown from $64 million in 1973 to $300 million this year, and yet a statewide shortage is projected at 800,000 to 1 million spaces.

Over the last six months, however, momentum has built to find solutions for the problem on a state level, in Los Angeles and 20 other California cities and counties. Among such efforts are:

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- A city ordinance proposed by Councilman David Cunningham would require developers of new commercial projects of 50,000 square feet or more to either provide space for child care or contribute money, about $1 per square foot, to a city child-care fund.

There are 1,899 licensed family day-care homes and 702 centers providing 52,024 spaces in the city, charging between $35 and $107 a week, and an estimated shortage, according to the Crystal Stairs study, of 87,437 spaces.

If the proposal becomes law, Los Angeles would be the third city in the United States to adopt such a measure. San Francisco and Concord, Calif., passed similar resolutions in July, 1985. Cunningham’s proposal will be heard by the council’s Planning and Environment Committee on Tuesday.

- A proposed citywide “child-care policy” was sent by Mayor Tom Bradley to the City Council late last week for consideration. In a statement, the mayor said the city “must establish” such a policy, and that “affordable quality child care which will ease the burdens of two-income and single-parent families is a critical investment in our city’s future.”

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The proposed policy, prepared by the mayor’s child-care advisory committee and the city Commission on the Status of Women, would, like Cunningham’s proposal, require developer assistance through construction or financial contribution. But it goes further by expediting the city’s permit process for those willing to actually build centers. The proposal also requires that a child-care specialist be placed on staff in the city Planning Department, and specifies that child care be made a part of all community planning, as traffic and parking are now.

- Legislation was passed by the state last fall to increase aid for so-called “latchkey” children needing supervision before and after school. Los Angeles County receives $100 million in child-care aid, state officials say, and the latchkey legislation adds $5.3 million.

Trust Fund Set Up

- Among the California cities and counties that have addressed the child-care issue, Marin County is setting up a trust fund to grant more than $600,000 a year in scholarships to parents for child-care costs, with the money raised through private and public sources. A grass-roots effort is under way in Sonoma County to put on the November ballot a child-care initiative that would raise money through fees on commercial and residential developments in the county.

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Among policy statements adopted by city councils or county supervisors in the last six months, San Diego said it would create child-care facilities for city employees, Sacramento said it would appoint a city child-care coordinator and Contra Costa County would ease land-use approvals for child care.

- A consortium of public and private employers in Los Angeles, the Alliance of Businesses for Childcare Development, recently announced plans to develop four child-care facilities downtown, geared to the needs of middle-class parents working downtown.

The first will be the Children’s Learning Center that the Maislins visited in their search for child care.

Woodland Hills Center

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A similar consortium of employers in Warner Center have joined with the Los Angeles Unified School District to open a child-care facility in Woodland Hills next fall. The Child Care Initiative, another public-private partnership started by the Bank America Foundation in 1985, has two pilot projects in Los Angeles County expected to create 400 spaces by next fall in Long Beach, West Los Angeles and the South Bay.

- Union Bank will be the first business in Southern California to install an on-site child-care center, in a new operations facility in Monterey Park next fall. This month, Transamerica Life Cos. will be the first private employer locally to start a “sick child-care” program. Through an agreement with a nearby hospital, the program will provide care for mildly ill children unable to attend day care or school, and thus not cause a parent to miss work.

The number of Southern California companies offering a form of child-care assistance as an employee benefit has risen from an estimated 25 to 100 since 1982, according to Sandra Burud, a Pasadena-based consultant to businesses for child-care planning, who adds: “It’s a trend that’s mushrooming.”

“There has been some feeling that child care is an issue for poor people, welfare people,” noted Weinstein, the adviser to Bradley. “But we have this enormous shortage of child care for anybody.”

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Middle-Class Push

While most public child-care programs assist lower-income parents, she believes that the newer efforts come “in response to middle-class parents.” This group “traditionally considered child care as ‘their’ problem,” she said, “different from other kinds of things like education or getting potholes fixed.”

But as the number of women in the work force increased, new centers or day-care homes did not keep up with the demand, due to factors, experts say, such as high real estate and construction costs, skyrocketing liability insurance and high labor costs because more staff is needed to supervise infants and small children.

The growing consciousness of corporations about child care, Burud said, has been increased by studies showing that “companies were actually saving and in some cases making money when they offered child care,” because of drops in absenteeism, lateness and turnover.

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One study, for example, of 33 companies done by the Regional Institute for Human Services at Portland State University in Oregon, found that employees with children--both male and female--lose an average of 13 days of work a year because of child-care problems.

Proposal Criticized

However, the proposed Cunningham ordinance has drawn criticism from businessmen and developers. The Central City Assn., a downtown businessmen’s group, called it the kind of fee requirement that “would very likely result in channeling of growth elsewhere.”

“Our industry seems to be a captive audience to extract from,” said lobbyist Richard Wirth, executive director of the Governmental Affairs Council of the Building Industry Assn. of Southern California, pointing out that developers already pay fees for a number of items such as parks, sidewalks, hydrants and traffic mitigation.

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“We’re willing to do our fair share, but at the same time we can ill afford to pay for everything,” he added.

Los Angeles employs more people than any one development project, Wirth noted, pointing out the unfairness of asking others to provide something the city has not done itself. “I haven’t seen a day-care center in any government building,” he said. “When they do it, we’ll do it.”

Can’t Gauge Effect

(Officials in San Francisco and in Concord said they could not yet gauge their measures’ effect because no new buildings have yet started construction since similar ordinances passed in July, 1985.)

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Among City Council members, Joy Picus said she would prefer to see incentives offered to developers, such as the draft citywide policy offers, rather than only requirements for space or money. “I prefer the carrot to the stick,” she said.

She and Howard Finn, who is chairman of the Planning Committee scheduled to consider Cunningham’s resolution, believe child-care needs should not be, as Finn put it, “a burden on just one group.”

Child-care fees could be spread to include smaller developments on a proportional basis, Cunningham said, describing his proposal to charge large developments a “first step.” Eventually the city might add local employers, he added, “perhaps with a business license tax.”

“We want to do an ordinance that enacts a fee on some reasonable basis,” Cunningham said. “Employers and developers, people who are building facilities for business and commerce, have got to get involved with the growing need for child care.”

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