Student parents see expanded child-care options

By Lokchi Lam

The University and U of C Hospitals awarded over $400,000 in grants to three South Side daycare centers this July, responding to increased faculty demand for care of their infants and toddlers aged 0–2.

The grants will create 70 new openings exclusively for children of University and Hospitals employees this September. Children of graduate students will not be included, as the move is part of an “employee retention strategy” and is unrelated to student affairs, according to Michelle Olson, director of external and government affairs.

The grants are taken from a million-dollar child-care fund created after a 2002 employee and faculty survey that showed “great demand” for age 0–2 child care options, said Olsen. Although many alternatives do exist for 3- to 5-year-olds in preschool, she said, “it’s really hard to get network and find affordable care” for younger children.

A $200,000 slice of the grant will go to Hyde Park’s Baby Ph.D., a professional, home-based daycare provider that helps launch new home daycare businesses. The bulk of the capital will be used to recruit and train three more home-based daycares, adding 46 spaces, according to Baby Ph.D. manager Sarah Diwan.

The Chicago Child Care Society (CCCS) will accommodate 12 new daycare slots for 2-year-olds by spending $113,000 on another classroom, three more teachers, extra sessions with a storyteller, and a new music program involving “sticks with variegated edges” and “egg-shaped bells,” according to Deborah Hagman-Shannon, the Society’s associate director.

The Center for New Horizons (CNH), receiving $110,000, will build a new playground for toddlers and buy teaching and learning aids and equipment, said Joe Green, CNH director of external affairs.

Judging from the waiting lists, however, the new openings may not fully satisfy demand. Diwan said that already 75 people have filled Baby Ph.D.’s waiting list. Hagman-Shannon reported 30 to 40 people awaiting a space at CCCS. But according to Diwan, the problem stretches beyond just a lack of spaces.

“There are not enough high quality spots available,” she said. “A lot of people are very well educated, they’re high achievers, and they have really high hopes for their own children.”

For graduate students, paying for child care poses an even greater hurdle.

“It is really difficult for graduate students,” said Diwan, who was a U of C graduate student for eight years before earning her master’s degree and Ph.D. in social work. “People who are on faculty usually have less trouble with it. It really depends on your salary.”

Diwan said that many graduate students limit how long their children stay in her daycare due to financial constraints. She was forced to scrap a reduced rate for graduate students because it was not financially viable.

“ are funded separately,” Olson said. “It was kind of an institutional decision. In the future this could expand.”

According to Olson, the Illinois Facilities Fund, a private nonprofit organization that advises companies on space needs given limited funding, has been contracted to evaluate the program.

“This is a pilot,” she said. “We may do a second round of funding depending on how things go.”