Growing child care needs met with program expansion
A stark quiet storage room at U-M Children's Center has been replaced with bright lights and colorful decor and a supportive learning environment as part of a new infant care program. The transformation is evident in everything from water-themed, textured carpet to lessons and activities including sign language, patty-cake and yoga.
"I researched many forms of part-time childcare for Marina nanny, home based centers, babysitting co-ops but the UMCC's new infant care program was a wonderful find," says Catherine Zudak, whose year-old daughter Marina Silbergleit attends. "The lead teachers, veterans of infant care, are a wonderful resource for me, a first-time mom, and Marina hardly notices now when I wave goodbye. She's too engaged in the fun of baby school."
Two years after President Mary Sue Coleman announced a Child Care Initiative, the center is meeting her goals with stepped-up services, facility upgrades and high-quality on-campus services that now include infants as part of early childhood care and education.
The President's Child Care Initiative was developed partly in response to a 115-percent increase from 2003-05 in child-care requests. Now, the renovation completed in August of the Children's Center at 300 N. Ingalls includes upgraded classrooms, more storage and a new multi-purpose room. Playgrounds also were improved and the new room was added for infant care.
Coleman says the University is committed to expanding child care as an important part of successful recruitment and retention of the best faculty, staff and students, as well as to enhance work/life balance and job satisfaction.
"Our ability to be a strong, attractive employer is rooted in providing the widest possible services for our faculty, staff and students. Our new child care service is one more way of assisting members of our community," Coleman says. "Faculty and staff serve the University, but the University must serve them as well."
Studies have shown that on-site child care increases productivity and reduces absenteeism. Nationally, an estimated $3 billion per year is lost due to child care-related employee absenteeism, which can be reduced by 20-30 percent when child care is provided by the employer.
"This renovation and the establishment of a new infant program on central campus are important steps in realizing President Coleman's vision of enhanced early childhood education and care options at the University," says Jennie McAlpine, director of Work/Life Programs. "We are excited to have the opportunity to provide the best care possible for the youngest members of our University community."
"The need for infant/toddler care by faculty, staff and students has been growing for the past five years as documented by statistics from the Work/Life Resource Center's child care referral services," says Associate Vice President for Human Resources Laurita Thomas. "Last year alone, there were over 900 requests for infant/toddler care."
Since January 2006, when U-M launched a self-directed child care referral database, 2,731 University families have used the service to search for child care. "The number of requests for infant care is almost three times higher than the previous year due to this overall increase," McAlpine says.
In response, the new infant program offers the first central campus, on-site options for this type of care. Before the Children's Center renovation, the only on-site center offering infant care on campus in Ann Arbor was the U-M Health System Child Care Center, with care for up to 25 infants of faculty, employees and students of the Health System.
UMCC serves approximately 160 families through part-time early childhood education programs for children ages 3 months to 5 years. The center is accredited through the National Association for the Education of Young Children. Staff members hold bachelor's or master's degrees in early childhood education or related areas of study.
The Children's Center offers care for 16 infants on half-day morning and afternoon schedules. Times are 7:30 a.m.-12:15 p.m. and 1:15-5:45 p.m. Monday through Friday. Staff can accept infants beginning at age 3 months.
The center has a formal partnership with the School of Nursing, also in the North Ingalls building, to provide a variety of services to new parents and their babies. These include lactation support and consultation, information on early development, nutrition, sleeping and other parenting concerns, and postpartum depression screenings for new moms.
The child-to-adult ratio is low, ensuring that children receive individual care and attention. The center also offers an accredited private kindergarten program for 5-year-olds.
The Children's Center provides education and practicum experience for both undergraduate and graduate students of education, psychology and nursing. The center also partners with many academic departments on research concerning early childhood development, child health and child/family wellbeing.
"President Coleman's commitment to quality child care means so much to faculty, staff and student parents. We are thankful to her for her vision and support. Dean Janet Weiss and Associate Vice President Laurita Thomas were also champions in this effort, and we are grateful to them for their leadership," McAlpine says.
To further meet goals of the Child Care Initiative, the Board of Regents last April approved funding for a Towsley Children's Center project. A new 22,500-square-foot facility will serve up to 142 children as it doubles the capacity of the current building on South Forest. It will create the opportunity to care for 16 additional infants and 36 new toddlers.
For more information about Early Childhood Programs at the University go to www.childcare.umich.edu or the Work/Life Resource Center Web site at hr.umich.edu/worklife/index.php. The University Campus Child Care Homes Network is at hr.umich.edu/worklife/childcare/homesnetwork.php.