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SACUA meeting brings childcare issues to table

Improving childcare for University faculty, staff and students was the main theme of the Feb. 3 Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs (SACUA) meeting, which featured 10 guests from different areas of campus.

"Childcare is a like a three-legged stool, with the legs being quality, affordability and availability," said Leslie dePietro, coordinator of the Work/Life Resource Center (WLRC). "If you cut from one of the legs, the stool will not be balanced."

DePietro said U-M's seven childcare centers (including the Flint and Dearborn campuses) provide more options than any other Big Ten school or peer institution, but are nowhere near enough for everyone who needs childcare.

Childcare options available to the U-M community include the U-M Children's Centers, the Pound House Children's Center, Children's Center for Working Families, University Hospitals Child Care Center, Family Housing Child Development Center, the U-M-Dearborn Child Development Center and the U-M-Flint Early Learning and Child Development Center.

"The University's support of childcare facilities goes back a long time," said Janet Weiss, associate provost for academic affairs. "It is a very expensive, labor-intensive process, and parents have a real emotional relationship with their childcare providers. It is a very important way the University supports its faculty, staff and students."

Employees' desire to find a balance between work and home life is one of the reasons SACUA member SeonAe Yeo brought the issue to the committee. Yeo quoted a 1998 Child Care Task Force report that indicated more than 12,500 children (under the age of 13) of faculty and staff needed childcare. Assuming a base of 30,000 faculty and staff, she said, 42 percent of the campus community needs childcare.

The Child Care Task Force report also indicated 20 percent of graduate students and 2 percent of undergraduate students are parents. A 2001 Student Parent Task Force report identified a shortage of childcare providers, particularly for infants and toddlers.

Jessica Burstrem, an LSA Honors English student and single mother of a 14-month old son, said her research on childcare in the area identified two viable options that were available, reliable and of suitable quality. She said childcare is a $500 per month out-of-pocket expense after assistance from the Family Independence Agency.

"It is a pity there is no University childcare for a child his age," said Burstrem, who relies on her family to give her time to maintain a full-time student schedule. "What do you do if your needs aren't 7 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday through Friday? I feel [student parents] are an unspoken-for group."

Weiss, who serves as the provost's liaison on childcare initiatives, said the University has explored more options, including new facilities. She said a recent cost estimate indicated a new facility for 75 children would cost $5 million.

"It is not a realistic goal for a long-term expansion of childcare facilities on campus," said Weiss, adding that the University has done its part to help by providing subsidies, tuition grants and flexible work time for working parents. "Realistically, the University will never be able to provide a childcare spot for every faculty, staff and student that needs it."

Last year, the University was awarded a four-year, $237,000 U.S. Department of Education Child Care Access Means Parents in School grant to help undergraduate student parents with childcare costs and availability. DePietro says during the second year of the grant, the WLRC has recruited and trained seven home-based family childcare providers with a capacity of 60 spaces for children near North Campus family housing.

There has been a tremendous amount of outreach from the University to families, said Karey Leach Fugenschuh, director of the U-M Children's Centers. Fugenschuh said she feels lucky to have the facilities, but they are aging and costly to maintain.

Getting the word out about existing resources is key to improving the situation, said Beth Sullivan, program manager for policy and advocacy at the Center for the Education of Women and staff member to the Committee on Student Parent Issues (CSPI).

"We have a lot of funding and other resources available, but not everybody knows about them," said Sullivan. She said the CSPI would like to see one unit responsible for the marketing of childcare resources to the U-M community. Various units are developing a Web site to better disseminate information, she said.

Beatriz Ramirez, a Ph.D. candidate in comparative literature and member of CSPI and the Child Care Oversight Committee, is the parent of a 2-year-old who went back to teaching six weeks after the birth of her daughter.

"This is a problem that will not go away. Men and women alike are affected by a lack of childcare spots in the University," Ramirez said. "Scholarships and subsidies are great, but they are not enough. We need a long-term solution."

Barbara Butterfield, associate vice president, human resources and affirmative action and chief human resources officer; Rodger Wolf, chair of the Childcare Oversight Committee and member of CSPI; Deborah Goldberg, mother of a 9-year-old son, professor of biology and member of the President's Advisory Commission on Women's Issues; and Kate Fitzgerald, a third-year psychiatry resident with a 3-year-old son, also spoke at the meeting.

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