CONSUMERISM

Caring for the little children

As the demand for day care heightens, canny entrepreneurs flood in to fill the void

Joanna Kidd December 7 1981
CONSUMERISM

Caring for the little children

As the demand for day care heightens, canny entrepreneurs flood in to fill the void

Joanna Kidd December 7 1981

Caring for the little children

As the demand for day care heightens, canny entrepreneurs flood in to fill the void

CONSUMERISM

Joanna Kidd

Dianne King and Michael Levy know only too well how the best-laid plans can go awry. When King was four months pregnant, the young married couple got on a waiting list for a small privately run day-care centre near their home in Toronto’s High Park area. Their foresight enabled King to return to work as a computer programmer for the Ontario government when Aaron was 4V2 months old. But their equilibrium was shaken two months later when the centre announced that it would close, and the couple flew into a near panic, consulting friends and neighbors to find a solution to the dilemma. Interim salvation came in the form of a friend with a nanny who offered to take Aaron for six months. Now, Levy, an elementary school

teacher, makes a mad crosstown dash at 7:15 each morning to deliver his sevenmonth-old son and a return journey through heavy traffic at night. King, on the other hand, starts work early so she can snatch a few precious hours with Aaron before he goes to bed. “It’s really hard to have such little time with him,” says the 30-year-old mother, “but what else can I do?”

Many parents know the feeling as they struggle to care for their children and pay the grocery bills—a balancing act that draws mothers and fathers alike to the work force. Says the Ontario Federation of Labor’s (OFL) program co-ordinator,

André Foucault: “The old situation-husband works, wife stays home, 2V2 kids, two cars in the garage, white picket fence— there just aren’t too many families like that anymore.”

The result: few remain at home to mind the children. Burdened with guilt, parents worry not only about ferreting out proper day-care facilities, but also about entrusting their children’s mental and psychological development to less than professional attention. Once perceived as a radical and outrageous demand pushed by feminists, day

care has become a necessity for many families. As the numbers of two-career families and single parents are expanding the labor pool, businesses and unions have awakened to the fact that day care is an essential service. Aware of the demand as well, canny entrepreneurs are leaping into the breach with innovative alternatives from emergency day-care services to 24-hour nurseries.

Though the obstacles to the growth of day care are many, indications point to a new era in the field. “When we first got involved in day care in 1974, there was no climate for universal day care,” says Pat Schultz, of the Toronto-based advocacy group Action Daycare. “But the climate has really changed around the issue, drastically, and I think that has to happen before you win much.” Echoes Catherine Macleod, the acting human rights director of the OFL, which voted overwhelmingly in favor of universal publicly funded day care at its annual convention last year: “There’s obvious momentum. I think you can say that a movement has been started—the day-care movement.”

£ Much still needs to be won. j Figures from the National Day “Care Information Centre in Ottawa show that in 1979 only 15.4

per cent of children aged 2 to 6

were enrolled in licensed day-care faciliti.es. The number of day-care spaces in 1979—84,083—has risen by only seven per cent nationally since 1976.

For the family who can’t find, or who can’t afford, the only alternative is unlicensed, unmonitored “home care.” “In the Ottawa-Carleton area, we probably have at any one time a good 1,000 children on the waiting list,” claims Rosemary Somers, president of the area day-

care association. “That’s when

they go to the little lady down the street, or ‘Auntie Flo’ or whoever’s available.”

So pressing is the issue that many future parents plot their lives and careers around the availability of day care. Ruth Herman, 32, is one such parent. While attending law school at Toronto’s York University, Herman planned the birth of her first child around an opening at the university-run day-care centre. Upon moving to Vancouver, she spent five months unemployed, searching for a centre for her daughter. Now, she and her husband, David Chudnovsky, a teacher,are postponing the birth of their next child until Anna, 4, is in kindergarten. “I just can’t afford to have two ¿children in day care,” says the

young professional, who estimates the yearly day-care cost for two kids at almost $7,000. At a time when they are financing a whopping house mortgage of $1,300 a month, says Herman, “It’s a real financial burden.”

Fortunately, some novel projects have flooded in to fill the void. The Vancouver branch of the YWCA opened Granny Y’s last summer to provide emergency child care for up to five days. Explains Sharon Willms, assistant director of support services: “People used to call up and say, Tm a single mom, I’ve just moved to town. Can you look after my kids while I get on my feet?’ and there was absolutely nothing I could do for them.” Swamped by requests for the service, the YWCA is planning another centre for next summer.

While emergency services provide an excellent stop-gap measure, entrepreneurs such as Terry Maclver have extended that vision to include aroundthe-clock centres. Maclver just opened up The Children’s Place in the research and development park of Kanata, Ont. “I worked in personnel and finance two years ago and I could see it coming—the need for flexible hours and 24-hour care.” In Hamilton, Ont., single parent Sharon Peace, 27, agrees that rigidly scheduled centres fall short of shift workers’ needs. Peace was fortunate to enrol her son at A New Life Children’s Centre, a 24-hour day-care co-operative. “I have to be at work at 6:30 in the morning, and most centres don’t open until 8:00,” says Peace, a postal carrier. “I wanted Willy in a centre, not in someone’s house watching TV. If it wasn’t for this place, I’d have to stay home on welfare to look after him.” Although many businesses have resisted financing workplace day care, a few employers are now responding. As former director of Toronto City Hall’s Hester How Centre for children of municipal employees, Peter Landry knows that providing child-care services makes good business sense: “It’s a psy-

chological thing—if parents have to resort to an unknown babysitter whose name they got from a supermarket bulletin board, then part of their psyche is not at work, it’s home worrying about the child.” Some companies that cannot set up facilities on the premises have opted to help existing ones expand to accommodate their employees’ needs. Manufacturers’ Life Insurance offered $12,000 to the Hilda Roberts Day Care Centre in Toronto for renovations. In return, the company received priority in placement of its employees’ children.

Capitalizing on the lack of day-care facilities is the controversial Alabamabased giant Kinder-Care, known in Canada as Mini-Skools Ltd. Dubbed the McDonald’s of day care, the company now claims an empire of more than 700 centres, 16 of which are located in Ontario and Manitoba. Last year, it announced plans to build 100 more centres from Edmonton to Hamilton, Ont., by 1985. Many in the day-care field, however, worry that a proliferation of profit-making centres will lead to a drop in quality. As alarm mounts, the OttawaCarleton Day Care Association has pressed city hall to pass a motion opposing Kinder-Care from moving into the area. “It’s rather like getting the recipe for Kentucky Fried Chicken,” says the association’s Somers. “They have set weekly and monthly programs, and we

don’t feel that’s necessary. If you’ve got good teachers, they don’t need that kind of crock.” But Jocelyn Cowern, KinderCare’s Canadian director of operations, disagrees: “I’ve found that the words ‘finance,’ ‘sales’ and ‘marketing’ really scare a lot of day-care operators.” Whatever the fears of day-care advocates, it cannot be denied that KinderCare is fulfilling a need for day care, and the success of the operation is per-

haps the clearest indication of the immediacy of the need. (Shareholders will pocket an estimated 87-cents-a-share dividend in 1981.) Says Cowern: “We feel we’re doing a fine job. People can leave their children with us and not be concerned about the care they’re receiving—and that’s what really

matters.”_

With files from Donald Gutstein, Janet Kask and Donna Vallieres.

Donald Gutstein

Janet Kask

Donna Vallieres