Childcare center scares grad parents

A new childcare center, opening in Fall 2012 may be too expensive for graduate student parents.

By Harunobu Coryne

A proposed University childcare center has graduate students worried that the facility would be too expensive and leave their families without adequate support.

The new center, scheduled to open in fall 2012, will provide daycare services for 120 children of University and Medical Center employees, according to a June 7, 2010 University press release.

Because they are employed by the University on a quarterly basis, some graduate students fear they might be ineligible for the program. University-affiliated group Graduate Students United (GSU) has posted fliers around campus calling attention to the issue.

The group will press for better child support for graduate students through measures like postcards addressed to President Robert Zimmer, according to Ph.D. anthropology student and GSU member Anna Weichselbraun.

“We’re people too; we have social needs. We need to create a better environment ,”she said.

The center will charge “market rates” for care provided by an outside service, according to the press release; however, it is unclear what those rates are. Baby PhD Childcare Network, a local provider which worked with the University on a separate childcare initiative, charges between $300 and $370 per week for full-time childcare in addition to a membership fee of $228, according to the service’s website.

Weichselbraun said she fears that “market rates” will likely translate to a figure beyond a graduate student’s budget, placing it well out of reach even if the new center accepts their children.

Most of the currently available childcare services for graduate students come from the Family Resource Center (FRC), which provides free and low-cost activities for children, as well as support groups for parents. However, the FRC is not a daycare center, and parents must be present while their children are there.

“It’s not really a big help in terms of lightening your load or anything like that,” Weichselbraun said of the FRC.

Manager of the FRC Lizanne Phalen agreed, noting that sometimes graduate students mistakenly go to the FRC expecting daycare, or looking for referrals to other daycare facilities in Hyde Park, which Phalen said can be “prohibitively expensive.”

The GSU is compiling a report on childcare resources available at peer institutions for student parents.

Weichselbraun pointed to a childcare center at the University of California, Berkeley, which provides financial support on a sliding scale for its services, as the ideal.

“I think graduate student parents deserve a lot more support than they’re getting,” Phalen said. “Some peer institutions have many more family-friendly university support services than does the University of Chicago.”

Still, Phalen defended the University’s intentions.

“They certainly care,” she said of the administration. “They’ve demonstrated that student parents as a population matter to them, they haven’t been totally marginalized.”

Phalen noted that nobody has voiced any specific complaints to her about the new childcare center. The GSU has not filed an official grievance with the University.