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Child care: More and more, an employer issue on campus

STANFORD -- Thirty years ago, most working women who became pregnant were summarily shown the door.

These days, pregnant employees of Stanford University, Stanford University Hospital and Lucile Salter Packard Children's Hospital are shown the ropes - with child-care counseling, a maternity seminar, and even a small gift package to acknowledge the blessed event.

"For women and men both, being able to balance work and family demands has become more and more important," said Kathleen Sullivan, who with her staff counsels about 30 to 40 employees each month at Stanford's Office of Child and Family Services.

"We recognize that accommodating family needs increases employee satisfaction and productivity, and reduces absenteeism and employee turnover."

History of family-friendly policies

So-called family-friendly policies are not new at Stanford. Long before President Clinton's family leave initiative, the university allowed new staff mothers or fathers as many as six months of unpaid infant-care leave, pending departmental approval.

Stanford also was an early leader in promoting on-site child care, by providing rent-free space and building and grounds maintenance. There are now two child care centers at Stanford, two nursery schools, licensed child-care homes in Escondido Village, an after-school program and a variety of summer school-age programs, serving a total of more than 900 children.

This year, the university has gone a step further and moved responsibility for campus child care from the Dean of Students Office to the Office of the Vice President for Faculty and Staff Services.

"This move represents Stanford's recognition of child care as an employer issue, rather than solely a student affairs issue," Sullivan said.

"While graduate students are still important users of our services, nearly two-thirds of the children in our on-site centers are the children of faculty and staff," she said.

Working together, Sullivan's office and Faculty and Staff Services now offer regular maternity seminars for expectant employees and administrators, providing information on short-term disability pay, infant-care leave policies and child-care options. (To reserve a space, call Agnes Miller at 723-5577.)

The seminars, which attract seven to 15 people each month, also provide an overview of the Stanford Salary Savings Plan, which allows employees to deduct child- or elder-care costs from their paychecks before taxes.

Employees who want further information about parenting and child-care options can drop by or make an appointment with the Office of Child and Family Services, located in the Escondido Village administration building (723-2660).

Director Sullivan and Resource Specialist Donna Warren meet with expectant parents to discuss the pros and cons of in- home, family or group care; things to look for in selecting a caregiver, breastfeeding resources, and information on where to buy recycled maternity clothes and baby furniture.

The office also provides an informational packet containing parenting brochures, income-tax tips, and even a diaper or toy for the new arrival.

Post-arrival services

Once the baby is born, Sullivan's office can provide counseling on a variety of family-related issues, ranging from health care and emergency child care to special education. The office even provides advice on care for older adult family members.

"On one occasion," Sullivan said, "we found a support group for a child whose father is dying of cancer; another time, we provided school and summer program information for a staff grandmother who was taking temporary custody of her two grandchildren.

"Another staff member asked for advice on how to calm the morning madness of getting the children off to child care and herself and her husband off to work."

Molly Sandperl, director of Stanford's Disability Resource Center, recently asked for advice on how to make separations easier when she had to leave her infant daughter, Emily, at her day-care home.

"Kathleen lent me books and was a real resource to me as I was making the transition from maternity leave to work," said Sandperl, who is now working halftime. "In many steps along the way, she has provided vital assistance."

In addition to helping individual parents, Sullivan is working closely with Faculty and Staff Services to promote even more family-friendly policies on campus.

Of continuing concern is the rising cost of the on- campus centers - which now charge between $750 and $835 a month for full-time infant care - versus the need to pay fair wages to campus child-care teachers, who still only make an average of $9- 10 an hour.

"This dilemma cannot be resolved either on the backs of parents or at the expense of the all-important staff," Sullivan said. "So we must continually look for other sources of funding."

The recent university decision to move toward a "flexible benefits" program is an important first step, she added.

Under the new program, employees who choose to receive fewer benefits than before can receive up to $50 per month cash in lieu of those benefits. The money, Sullivan said, could be put toward child-care expenses.



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