A few months ago, "Good Morning America" launched a series called Mothers Make It Work, highlighting the ways in which working women juggle the demands of work and family.
Child care is a critical issue for working moms, particularly when school lets out for the summer, but some moms are fortunate enough to work for companies that offer innovative summer child-care solutions.
As tough as it is to find affordable, accessible care for young children, caring for school-age kids is a particular problem. More than 14 million kids, or 25 percent, are home alone after school.
So when school lets out this month, millions of moms and dads must scramble to keep their kids busy and safe for 10 weeks to 12 weeks during the summer. While only 7 percent of companies in America offer on- or near-site child care to their employees, many provide summer programs for employees' children for a fraction of the cost of regular camps.
Summer Child Care
For example, CitiGroup offers child care at several of its locations around the country, and some sites offer summer camps. Two of the largest camps are in Hagerstown, Md., and Sioux Falls, S.D., where kids ages 6 to 12 can build a diorama of the Gettysburg battlefield, paint, make movies, conduct weird science experiments, and compete in Xbox playoffs. Bright Horizons runs the 11-week-long camp, which costs about $90 a week for employees and can accommodate 129 campers.
One of the most underserved groups of kids, especially during the summer because they're too old for traditional camps and too young to be home alone, are "tweens." Abbott Labs in Lake County, Ill., operates a Summer of Service program for "tweens" -- sixth- to ninth-graders -- in conjunction with other companies in the area.
For 10 weeks during the summer, kids spend half their time volunteering at nursing homes, food pantries, the Red Cross and pet shelters. The rest of their time, kids explore careers, learn about hobbies, and take field trips to amusement parks and museums. The camp costs about $165 a week, and it's a wonderful example of a community effort that benefits the kids while creating an enthusiastic volunteer force.
IBM offers the Exploring Interest in Technology and Engineering Camp for Girls for one week during the summer, and it's open at no cost to seventh- and eighth-graders around the world. IBM works with local school districts to select girls for the EXCITE Camp who may not otherwise see a career in engineering as an option, in order to address the underrepresentation of women in the engineering field. After the camp, during which girls do hands-on engineering such as building and programming robots, girls maintain an ongoing mentoring relationship with the female engineers at IBM who were camp counselors.
The Summer Science Camp at Texas Instruments operates on site, so parents can visit their kids throughout the work day. Campers, from ages 5 to 12, take swim lessons and learn a different sport every week, taught by professional coaches. They learn the latest in hip-hop dance, art composition and theater, and they take weekly field trips, in addition to science adventures such as a Lego Robotics course taught by the American Robotics Academy. Camp costs $170 a week.
Backup Child Care
Young children may spend most of their time year-round in a child-care center, but the schedule may change during the summer months. For these parents, summer camp may not be the best option. Employer-sponsored backup care -- sometimes called emergency care -- can be a real blessing during the summer when normal care providers go on vacation, when a sitter is sick, or when parents just need to fill in summer-care gaps.
In fact, 6 percent of employers with 50 or more employees offer backup care, which is among the fastest-growing segments of the employer-sponsored child-care market. Most companies limit employees' use of the backup facility, which can be on- or off-site, to a certain number of days per year.
Employees at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota can make reservations up to two months in advance for their kids to use the Employee Backup Center. Knowledge Learning Corp. operates the center, which can accommodate 96 kids during the summer. Employees pay just $15 per day for care, and they can use the center up to 20 days per year, per child.
SEI Investments, a financial-services firm in Oaks, Pa., provides backup care for children 6 weeks to 12 years, in conjunction with Bright Horizons, for $15 a day. Preschool and younger kids may spend 20 days per year in the center. School-aged kids may use the center 40 days per year: 20 during the school year, and 20 during summer, when SEI offers Summer Fun, which costs $25 a day. The programming at Summer Fun was developed by SEI's Parents Resource Team, and employees with particular expertise in an area often pitch in at the camp.
Johnson and Johnson, also with the help of Bright Horizons, operates several on-site child-care centers, and its world headquarters in New Brunswick, N.J., is equipped with a backup care facility for children ages 6 weeks to 5 years. Parents may use the center 20 days per year at a cost of $50 per day.
The backup program at Pfizer headquarters in New York City is for kids from 3 months to 12 years old, and parents may use the center 20 times per year per child, for $15 a day. Bright Horizons operates this center, where kids engage in age-appropriate activities such as drawing, building, reading, working on a computer, and playing games.
Extended-Day Child Care
Parents who don't work regular 9-to-5 jobs may benefit more from extended-care centers than from backup or summer-camp programs. Extended day care provides child care during irregular hours, for parents who work the night shift or who need weekend help.
Proctor and Gamble offers child care 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to employees at the manufacturing facility in Albany, Ga. Bright Horizons operates the center, which can accommodate up to 62 kids and costs around $85 a week. The center was designed to have a homelike feel, so the transition from home to a facility is easier on kids who go to sleep and wake up without their parents.
The Catherwood Home in Minnesota is another example of round-the-clock care that supports the whole family. Catherwood is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In addition to providing extended care, for about $2.75 an hour, it connects parents with a variety of family-support resources in the area. The center also provides free transportation to and from the center.
How to Get Child Care at Your Workplace
Summer camp, backup care and extended-care programs are wonderful support systems for parents fortunate enough to work for companies that provide them. Parents who receive no child-care support at work, however, need not lose hope.
The most important thing to remember is that most working parents face similar challenges, so it's critical to talk about them. Find out what co-workers do for child care, and what they would want and use at work. If you believe there's a definite need for child-care help, you need to demonstrate how providing that help would be good for business.
For example, perhaps you can find out how many employees at your company are late for or miss work because of child-care problems. Do you know of employees who have had to leave work due to child-care challenges? It costs companies millions of dollars to hire and retrain valuable workers. Employees who are distracted and worried about their kids are not productive -- another cost to the bottom line.
If possible, enlist the help of other workers who share your concern. Draft a heavy hitter on your child-care task force, someone who has the ear of higher-ups on the company ladder. Do some research on competitors in your area that provide child-care services and that may attract better workers because of that care.
For additional information on how to approach your employer, contact Families and Work Institute: 212-465-2044, or www.familiesandwork.org.
Many companies enlist the help of a child-care services provider, such as Bright Horizons or Knowledge Learning Corp., big names in the field that take care of everything for their clients in the child-care arena. Bright Horizons operates more than 600 child-care centers and elementary schools in the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland and Canada.
It provides work/life solutions to more than 100 Fortune 500 companies and more than half of the companies named by Working Mother magazine as the best places to work. Knowledge Learning operates more than 3,000 before- and after-school programs and employer-sponsored centers across the country that serve about 200,000 children.
How to Find Child Care in Your Community
If you're scrambling to find something for your kids to do this summer, start by contacting your local child-care resource and referral agency, or visit the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies at www.naccrra.org.
Use the Child Care Aware tab to find child care resources in your area by plugging in your ZIP code.
Turn to community organizations like the local YMCA, Junior League, or to schools and places of worship. Even your local police department can be a good resource, because law-enforcement officials have a vested interest in keeping tweens and teens occupied during the summer months.
The best resource of all is other mothers, though. Don't try to solve your child-care problems alone. Banding together to share the care or to help with transportation or simply to talk about programs that you've heard are good can go a long way toward making the summer a safe and fun experience for your kids -- and a less stressful one for you.
For additional information on child care, contact:
Child Care Aware -- 800-424-2246 or www.childcareaware.org
Families and Work Institute -- 212-465-2044 or www.familiesandwork.org
National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies -- 703-341-4100 or www.naccrra.org
National After-School Association -- 800-617-8242 or www.naaweb.org
Bright Horizons -- www.brighthorizons.com
Knowledge Learning Corp. -- www.knowledgelearning.com
Recommended books include "Time to Care," by Joan Lombardi, and "The Working Mother's Guide to Life," by Linda Mason, for specific details about solving the child care dilemma.
For more information about Ann Pleshette Murphy, visit www.annpleshettemurphy.com.
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