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IBM takes active role in child care

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Discussing IBM's announcement that it has awarded $300,000 to Rochester's Child Care Resource and Referral, Inc. for the construction of an infant and toddler child-care center are, from left, Tutti Sherlock, executive director of Child Care Resource and Referral; Elaine Schmidt, director of the Children's Home Society Day Care Center; Joanne McCree, IBM's personnel manager; and Harlan Wickre, president of the Child Care Resource and Referral Board of Directors. Like an increasing number of corporations that are frustrated by the shortage of quality child care for their employees, IBM Corp. has decided to take a more active role and build its own centers.

IBM announced Tuesday that it would spend $3 million next year to build five new child-care centers near its offices and plants around the country to serve 530 children younger than school age.

In Rochester, IBM awarded $300,000 to Rochester's Child Care Resource and Referral, Inc., for the construction of an infant and toddler child-care center near the plant. The building will be leased to a non-profit, licensed child-care center.

IBM also awarded an $8,500 grant to the Children's Home Society of Minnesota child-care center. That money allowed the center to start an infant program and expand its toddler program.

Other cities targeted for the child-care centers are Charlotte, N.C., Katonah, N.Y., Gaithersburg, Md., and Southlake, Texas.


It said it would spend an additional $500,000 in communities that have large populations of IBM workers to improve existing day-care centers and to recruit and train people who care for children in their homes. The company does not plan to operate the centers; that will be done by companies specializing in child care.

``Companies are frustrated because employees have lousy choices,'' said Dr. Dana Friedman, co-president of the Families and Work Institute, a non-profit research organization, based in New York, that advises corporations on child care.

``A number of companies like IBM that said they would not build child-care centers, that they are not in the business of child care, are reconsidering,'' Dr. Friedman said.

``They have milked other options, and now they realize they have to roll up their sleeves and be in it in a bigger way.''

Dr. Friedman added that it was unprecedented for a corporation to build five child-care centers. ``I don't know of any company that has built more than two or three,'' she said. The new projects represent the largest expenditure to date of the $22 million fund that IBM established a year ago to increase the availability of childcare services for its employees.

The money, to be distributed during a five-year period, represents the largest financial commitment by any U.S. corporation for child care. Since 1984, IBM's child-care assistance for its 216,000 employees in the United States has consisted of a referral service.

But IBM found that its referral service was strained by the limited supply and poor quality of child care in many American communities.



J.T. Childs Jr., the director of the company's Work/Life Program, noted that the number of male employees at IBM had declined by 20 percent over the last 30 years while the number of female employees had tripled, so child care had become a vital program to keep these women in the work force.

He described the company's decision as ``a long-term investment in our economic and competitive health.''

Barbara Reisman, executive director of the Child Care Action Campaign, a national advocacy organization, said the IBM announcement ``confirms what we have been saying, that the quality of child care is not what it should be, and that companies can help to do something about it.''

But Dr. Edward F. Zigler, a child psychologist and director of Yale University's Bush Center in Child Development and Social Policy, said that while IBM ``is to be commended for doing something to make the work place more family friendly,'' such corporate initiatives ``are not the solution'' to the lack of adequate child care in the United States.

Zigler, a founder of the Head Start program, said, ``The Reagan administration's solution was for the private sector to take this on.'' But, he said, only 6,000 of nearly six million employers now provide some form of child-care assistance.

``And what will happen when a company falls on hard times?'' Zigler asked. ``It will close a child-care center, not an assembly plant.''

Childs said that Work/Family Directions of Boston, IBM's child-care consultant, would choose experienced child-care companies to operate the centers. ``We are not in the child-care business,'' he said.

Fees at each center will be set by the operator, he said, adding that IBM does not give employees direct financial assistance for child care.


But, he said, since the new centers will not be encumbered by mortgages, ``it will be easier for them to operate and establish reasonable fees.''

In addition to the new centers, IBM will finance programs to recruit and train people to care for small groups of children in their homes.

The company will also provide money to help scores of child-care centers around the country meet the quality standards established by the National Association for the Education of Young Children, the largest group of early-childhood educators in the nation.

Of the $3.5 million, IBM has allocated for construction, nearly half has been designated for twohortage of quality child-care services.

Other new centers are to be built near IBM plants and offices in Rochester, Minn.; Gaithersburg, Md., and Southlake, Texas.

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