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Employers Doing More to Provide Child Care : Benefits: Firms are discovering that it pays to have on-site services for working parents.

Companies are discovering that child care not only helps their employees but may also contribute to the bottom line.

Lowe Development Corp. hopes its child-care center will help retain tenants in its new Brea Place office park. The law firm of Morrison & Foerster in Irvine expects a new child-care program to heighten its public image. And Birtcher Corp. hopes a child-care center in Lakeshore Towers will help it sell office space--and enable it to charge a little more for it--in the glutted market around John Wayne Airport.

“It’s a positive to leasing the project,” said Bill Kearns, a Birtcher principal.

Obviously, companies have other reasons to provide on-site employee child care besides burnishing their image or balance sheets. It can also reduce absenteeism from parents who take the day off to care for sick children, increase productivity and help attract and retain the best employees.

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Working Mother magazine, in its October issue, reports that a growing number of companies increased child-care programs and other “family-friendly” benefits this past year. And that increase came despite a national recession that has led to widespread layoffs and other corporate cutbacks.

The report was part of Working Mother’s annual ranking of the best companies for working parents. Eighty-five companies made the 1991 list, up from 75 in 1990.

They range from powerful industrial giants such as Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble Co. and Eastman Kodak Co., to smaller concerns such as Patagonia Inc. in Ventura and Little Company of Mary Hospital in Torrance.

No Orange County companies made the list, but many local concerns have been adding child-care programs.

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“At times when salaries and some other things aren’t as big as they have been in the past, this is one more thing a company can provide at a relatively low cost,” said Dawn McCormick, a spokeswoman for the Irvine Co. She said the giant developer and landowner began offering child-care vouchers to its 350 employees last year as part of a government program that provides tax benefits to help employees with child-care expenses.

Susan Seliger, the associate publisher-editor of Working Mother, attributed the change largely to the dramatic movement of mothers into the American work force and their pleas for help in balancing their family and professional lives.

Labor Department statistics show that at least 57% of all women with children younger than age 6 work outside the home, up from 12% in 1950. The Children’s Defense Fund, a Washington-based child advocacy group, predicts that by 1995, two-thirds of all preschool children will have working mothers, an increase of 50% in a decade.

During the past year, a group of MBA candidates from Pepperdine University conducted their own child-care survey as part of a project to help an Anaheim church study the issue of child-care needs in the community.

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In Orange County, the survey found, infant care (age 2 and under) costs a family $4,000 to $7,000 annually in a center-based program, and $3,600 to $6,700 in a family child-care home. The cost for preschoolers (age 3 to 5) runs from $3,000 to $5,300 a year for each child.

Among the survey’s other findings about child care in Orange County:

* There are 3,636 licensed day-care spaces for 66,400 children under age 2.

* There are 36,291 spaces for 137,000 children age 3 to 5.

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* For every 25 children age 6 to 14, there was only one licensed after-school slot available.

* In South Orange County, the average waiting time for child-care services is two months for licensed in-home day-care providers and more than a year for licensed child-care centers.

* About seven of every 10 mothers with children age 14 and younger hold jobs.

The Rev. Kenneth Krueger, pastor at the Lamb of God Lutheran Church in Anaheim, said he was not surprised by the findings in the study by the Pepperdine students. The church spent three years planning its child-care center before opening it a week ago. The center will charge from $660 to $6,240 a year, depending on the child’s age and number of hours of care needed. Even then, the rates are being subsidized by donations from the congregation.

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The church got some help from the Pepperdine students setting up business procedures for the center--not to mention help with a jungle gym. The students are part of the university’s Presidential/Key Executive MBA program. Pepperdine professor Wayne Strom requires his students to do some community involvement work to complete his course.

One of the students, Lynn Powers, is chief operating officer for Goouch, a men’s sportswear designer in Rancho Santa Margarita. She said the project had personal significance for her, since she raised a now 23-year-old daughter alone.


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