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Stanford Report, December 6, 2000
University makes institutional commitment to meet child care needs

BY JAMES ROBINSON

Stanford for the first time is making an institutional commitment to meet the university community's child care needs, with officials announcing last week new financial support for child care centers as well as a need-based child care benefit for faculty and staff.

Kathleen Sullivan, outgoing director of the WorkLife Office, said at last week's Faculty Senate meeting that President John Hennessy had agreed in principle to several child care initiatives, the details of which will be hammered out by a working group to be formed in the next few weeks.


Kathleen Sullivan, director of the WorkLife Office, presented the results of a survey on child care needs at last week's Faculty Senate meeting.
Photo: L.A. Cicero

"These initiatives will address availability and affordability," Sullivan said, after detailing the dire need for child care services at Stanford, in the Palo Alto area and in Santa Clara County generally.

The initiatives include:

  • A tax-free child care benefit for faculty and staff based on need. Possibly modeled after a program at Harvard University, the annual child care "scholarship" likely will take effect in September 2001 or January 2002. The amount of the benefit is not yet known.

  • An infusion of university capital funds to help make physical improvements to the two full-time child care centers located on campus and run by nonprofit groups, the Children's Center of the Stanford Community and the Stanford Arboretum Children's Center.

  • The opening of a child care center, to be run by a for-profit group, at the Stanford West apartments next fall.

  • The possibility of construction of an additional center, with a capacity of 110 full-time slots, which would open in 2002 or 2003.

  • And the commitment, in the university's 10-year General Use Permit and Community Plan, to set aside additional space for child care as new housing is built on campus.

"So the university has a very clear plan to move toward creating more child care as quickly as we can and being sure that we, meanwhile, maintain what we have," Sullivan told the senate.

Still requiring more study, Sullivan said, is the issue of child care for students and postdoctoral students. "This is such a critical and complex issue; the president and the rest of us recognize the seriousness of this," she said. But because such a benefit involves addressing financial aid packages, "it's really a very complex situation" that the new working group "will take a very hard look at," she said.

Before making the announcements, Sullivan released the results of a child care needs assessment completed earlier this year. Of the respondents, 71 percent of faculty and 90 percent of staff said child care had an impact on recruitment and retention.

Stanford's two full-time child care centers are totally booked, serving about 350 families with 300 full-time slots. Last year, the survey found that 485 faculty, staff and students were on a waiting list for the centers; by this year, that number had increased to 500.

A similar shortage exists in the community at large, Sullivan noted. "Right now, licensed child care meets only about one-third of the child care need in Santa Clara County," she said, "so it's a tremendous problem all the way through." In response, some employers, such as Cisco Systems, are building their own child care centers to meet employees' needs, she said.

If and when families manage to gain access to child care, affordability is the next problem, with full-time infant care costing about $1,200 a month and full-time care for a preschooler about $800. One staff member reported on the survey that, earning $38,000 a year and spending more than 75 percent of that on day care, it made no sense to continue to work.

The need-based benefit will help address the affordability issue, Sullivan said. "This is a place to start," she said.

Sullivan also said that late in the preparation of the needs assessment it was discovered that a group of undergraduates exists for which child care is a pressing need. As a result, a task force is being set up to look at their unique needs.

During a question-and-answer session at the senate meeting, Elizabeth Traugott, linguistics, applauded the new attention being paid to undergraduate parents and their children. She said she had such a student in a class last year who "simply couldn't afford child care; therefore, she couldn't come to class."

Asked how many undergraduates have children, Sullivan indicated there is no reliable list but that about 20 undergraduates have "self-identified" as having children.

Debra Satz, philosophy, said, "This is a very impressive initiative and I'm glad Stanford has taken this very seriously." She inquired about housing for child care workers and said the housing shortage has made the turnover of workers "a tremendous problem."

Sullivan said she hoped child care workers would be reclassified at the same rank as nurses for the purpose of competing for below-market-rate rentals at Stanford West. Currently, they are not allowed to compete for those units and their status, as campus-based employees not employed by Stanford, is the same as shopping center workers for the purpose of applying for the housing units.

The average child care provider on campus and in Palo Alto, she said, earns $11 to $12 an hour. "That is actually quite a good salary within the child care industry. However, you can see that it is not a salary on which one can live in this area," Sullivan said.

Michael Harrison, business, asked if the child care centers in the planning stages would address the total future need. "It's a very good start and I wouldn't want to commit to more than that right now," Sullivan said, noting that additional child care centers are being planned for the Palo Alto area. The shortage of child care is actually a recent phenomenon, she added, dating back only to the 1997-98 academic year. "For a long time, Stanford had so much more child care than actually was needed that in fact outside community members could use our facilities," she said.