Originally created 04/17/99

Child care campaign begins



ATLANTA -- Gov. Roy Barnes kicked off a statewide campaign Friday to convince business owners that offering child-care benefits can be a good investment.

U.S. companies lose $3 billion yearly because of worker time missed resolving child-care problems, according to a 1998 study by the U.S. Treasury Department.

With the number of Georgia children in child care at least part of a day growing beyond 1 million, the impact on the state's economy could be large.

Georgia parents miss an average of 3.7 workdays a year because of unavailable child care, according to a survey of 500 fathers and mothers of children under age 12 conducted for the Georgia Child Care Council in March 1998 by Beth Schapiro & Associates.

Mr. Barnes signed a proclamation naming April Georgia Child Care Month and launched efforts by volunteers of the council in every county to teach parents about their options and educate employers about recently enacted tax credits.

Advocates say child-care benefits -- either on site or through referrals, vouchers or before-tax withholding -- help reduce employee absenteeism and turnover, improve morale and serve as a powerful recruiting tool in a tight labor market.

But convincing businesses isn't easy.

"It's a hard nut to crack," said Suellen Wilson, the council's Richmond County coordinator. "In this area of the South, the people are always more reluctant. They want to follow and see how well it works in other places before trying it here."

One reason, observers say, is the liability faced by day-care centers.

"Child care centers have all kinds of safety issues," said Bobbie Williams, a benefits professor at Georgia Southern University. "It's all kinds of things from the sheets on the bed to the curtains that can't be flammable."

Many Georgia companies rejected plans to open an on-site center in recent years without weighing costs because of the possible legal risks, said Lorraine Lyle, a benefits consultant with the Arthur Andersen office in Atlanta.

But new state income-tax credits for 100 percent of construction costs and 75 percent of annual operating costs could change their minds, she said.

At the same time, the growing number of women entering the work force could make the issue of child care more important to male executives who haven't traditionally worried about their own children's daily supervision.

"It really is a work-force issue, but somehow we have separated it out of men's radar screen, and there is something we need to do about that," said Laurie Iscaro, project director with Georgians for Children.

Seventy-three percent of Georgia parents surveyed by the Child Care Council said their employers should be doing more to help their workers find child care.

But 76 percent of 300 personnel managers surveyed by the council said their companies were already concerned about employees' children.

Health insurance remains the most important benefit to workers, according to benefit experts. And the state estimates more than 300,000 Georgia children still don't have medical coverage.

Walter Jones is based in Atlanta and can be reached at (404) 589-8424 or mnews@mindspring.com.