Governments Move to Meet Growing Child-Care Needs

Times Staff Writer

For court administrator Dominic Polimeni, planning an on-site child-care center for Alhambra Municipal Court employees makes perfect sense. Working parents would get peace of mind and be more productive, which would make his job easier, he said.

A third of the 30 employees he supervises need child care, Polimeni said, adding that many are single parents who must work. “A lot of times the baby-sitters will be ill and there’s nobody to take care of the children. So the mothers have to stay home, and I don’t have someone to take their place.”

Polimeni has urged his employer, Los Angeles County, to join forces with the city of Alhambra and open a child-care center that would serve more than 2,100 county and city employees in the Alhambra area. The proposed facility, a trailer in the courthouse’s rear parking lot, would accommodate 75 children starting in the fall of 1990, Polimeni said.

The joint county-city project is part of a growing effort by city and county governments to increase child-care services for their own employees and for people who live or work in their communities.

“It’s an issue whose time has come,” said Alhambra City Manager Kevin Murphy. “The more convenient we can make child care, the more days we can have employees at work.”

South Pasadena, for example, has added spring and summer day camps to its after-school program. The 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. day camp, which four years ago served 40 children a day, now attracts 85 youngsters a day, said Margaret Carreiro, the city’s director of recreation. It’s open to the public.

In April, San Dimas and Industry were among 16 cities in California--and the only two in the San Gabriel Valley--that received state grants to plan and coordinate child-care programs in their communities.

San Dimas is using its $15,000 grant from the state Department of Education to study child-care needs in the city and to publish a resource guide for residents and businesses, said Diane Robson, a part-time child-care coordinator who was hired with the grant money.

Industry, a city of about 400, is using its $25,000 grant to design child-care programs for the 60,000 people who work there, said City Manager Chris Rope.

In May, the Monterey Park City Council approved a city child-care policy to encourage flexible hours, parental leaves and job sharing.

Pasadena, which hired a part-time child-care project manager in 1987, now has a full-time child-care coordinator and a child-care coalition and policy. The city has also revised zoning ordinances to facilitate the opening of child-care centers in the city, said child-care coordinator Lara Larramendi Blakely.

Code Requirements

In January, the city voted to add child care to a list of factors, including traffic and environmental impact, that must be examined before a new building can be constructed, she said.

Blakely, a member of the Monrovia City Council, also helped draft that city’s child-care report four years ago. Last year Monrovia adopted zoning changes to encourage day-care centers and waived fees for centers applying for city permits, Blakely said.

City-sponsored child-care programs help supplement services that school districts, community organizations, churches, and the private sector have been offering.

The Pomona Unified School District, for example, has developed a nationally acclaimed child-care program that offers special programs, such as 6:30 a.m.-to-midnight hours, sick-children care and care for abused children.

County Services

In San Dimas, a child-care task force will soon be formed to see what can be done to increase child-care services in that community, child-care coordinator Robson said. A city study in January showed that the community had 699 spaces at child-care facilities to serve a population of close to 33,000 people, she said.

One solution is to urge the Bonita Unified School District, which offers after-school care for 60 students at one of its five elementary schools, to consider expanding such service to all of the schools, Robson said.

In addition to the cities, Los Angeles County has also been active in planning and coordinating child-care services.

“We certainly see the incredible need for child care,” said Kathleen Malaske-Samu, county child-care coordinator. The 133,000 child-care slots in the county meet only 47% of the demand for such services, she said.

County officials want adequate day care for all residents, and are starting by improving services for county employees, Malaske-Samu said.

In 1988 the county started an on-site child-care center at its USC Medical Center in Los Angeles and opened one at Olive View Medical Center in Sylmar two weeks ago. The centers were opened in response to a severe nursing shortage at county hospitals, she said.

The centers are “perceived as a way to recruit and to retain nurses and other hard to recruit classes,” Malaske-Samu said. County officials plan to open a third center, at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Torrance, this September.

In one survey of 12,750 county employees who work near the Los Angeles civic center, she said, more than 75% of the 6,020 respondents indicated that they have missed at least one day of work in the past year because a child was sick or there were child-care problems.

‘Good Investment’

“It does become a costly issue,” she said. “We really feel the child-care program for our employees is a good investment.”

But the push for quality child-care services has not been easy in all communities.

In February, Monterey Park Councilwoman Judy Chu met opposition when she urged the council to apply for the same state child-care grant eventually awarded to San Dimas and Industry. Chu said she had to contend with critics who charged that, “Women only want child care because they want an extra income so they can buy a Mercedes-Benz.”

Need to Work

Chu and other child-care proponents dismiss such arguments. “In this day and age, both parents need to work to make ends meet. If a couple wants to buy a house, they both need to work.”

Chu added that child care is not just a women’s issue. “Having child care, to a community as a whole, makes for a more productive work force and everybody benefits from that,” she said.

“To me it’s a motherhood and apple pie issue.”