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Area's child care needs discussed at event

October 09, 2002

The demand for infant child care is greater than the available supply of child care slots in Washington County, child care officials told business leaders on Wednesday.

At last Wednesday morning's "Eggs and Issues" breakfast event, the top local child care resources leaders presented a panel discussion on the current state of child care in Washington County.

The Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce's Business and Community Development Committee hosted the event at the Plaza Hotel.

According to the panel, while the quality of child care in Washington County is very good, there is a crisis that is currently affecting area child care.

Sarah Bonise, executive director of the Citicorp Family Center, which is managed by Bright Horizons Family Solutions, said, "We have a child care crisis in the county, demand for infant child care is far greater than the available supply of child care slots."

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Fanny Crawford is the executive director of Apples for Children, Washington County's Alliance for Parent, Provider and Local Employer Solutions. Crawford agreed that child care is at a critical point.

"While there is a real problem supplying infant child care, that is for children less than two years old, we're doing all we can to help parents and employers find available and appropriate child care opportunities," Crawford said.

Apples for Children tracks available child care resources in Washington County and maintains a free referral service of all licensed child care providers. Crawford said that area companies are in real danger of losing employees, because of a shortage of child care.

The panel discussed the latest statistics for Washington County, including that more than 70 percent of the working population of Washington County have children requiring some kind of child care.

"We have a problem in Washington County," said Chuck Wainwright of the Surrey Childcare Center. "There are too few available child care workers in the county, and this is partially because the pay for these workers is so low."

While wage rates for child care workers wasn't the only issue, stringent child care licensing regulations also impedes attracting new child care workers. According to Delores Harmon, the Regional Manager for the state's Western Maryland Child Care Office, "Maryland has some of the most exacting standards for child care providers, and these standards are strictly enforced."

The panel agreed that the standards were necessary, as Wainwright discussed, "The children need the highest in quality care, because they are the future of Washington County."

Attracting quality workers is a big concern, but not the only points that the panel made. According to Wainwright, companies are looking for child care centers to contract for child care needs. "We have been approached by several companies to take in extra children. Companies know that appropriate quality child care will keep their workers happy, and importantly, available for work.

"In other words, without child care, a worker at a local company has to stay at home ... and not work."

The panel discussion revealed that many of the large and medium sized employers were seeking child care solutions, and had been working with the members of the panel.

"This is a big concern for area employers," said Sarah Bonise of Citicorp's Family Center. "We manage the largest corporate child care center in the United States, and we still are being asked if we can take on more children than there is room for."

Several issues were discussed during the morning panel discussion, including the problem of latch key children, the summer situation (when schools close, and parents need more child care solutions), and also the shortage of home day care providers.

One of the panelists was Washington County's first nationally accredited family child care provider. Pam Niessner is certified by the National Association for Family Child Care. "The at home child care providers account for more than 3,000 'slots' in Washington County, and that number needs to increase. Unfortunately, a crisis that we are facing is that with so many families needing dual-incomes, there aren't enough people continuing to be active in child care. While absolutely necessary, the license requirements are very stringent, and this dissuades people from entering the field."

The panel discussion was moderated by Tom Riford, of Associated Engineering Sciences, and chairman of the Hagerstown-Washington County Business and Community Development Committee. "This panel discussion has revealed a lot for the business community. There is a need, a requirement and companies are struggling to find quality workers because of the child care situation," he said.

The chamber's Eggs and Issues monthly breakfast meeting was well attended by community business leaders, including many members of the Society of Human Resource Managers. The event was sponsored by Citicorp Credit Services, Inc. and Apples for Children.

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