Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

DU task force formed to address child care

Finding quality, affordable child care near the DU campus can be a challenge. Ask any faculty or staff member who has tried to find daycare, and you will often hear frustrating tales of yearlong wait lists and expensive tuition.

A University task force has been formed to address the problem. Chaired by human resources Director Dick Gartrell, the task force is charged with examining the school’s child care challenges and recommending options for additional resources and more affordable solutions for DU faculty, staff and students. The task force, made up of representatives from a variety of departments across campus, has been meeting twice a month since March.

Gartrell says he has heard a variety of child care concerns from staff and faculty, namely the lack of open slots on or near campus, especially for infants.

“Across the board in the child care community, there are fewer infant slots than can meet the demand,” Gartrell says. “Because the state requires certain staffing levels for infants, centers can’t provide many slots and still be cost-effective.”

At the Fisher Early Learning Center on DU’s campus, there are more than 700 families waiting for an open slot. Porter Care Child Development Center, at 2525 S. Downing, has a waiting list with hundreds of families, most of whom are on the list for more than a year before being accepted. Sunflower Hill Childcare, between Iliff and Wesley on University Boulevard, does not accept children under the age of 12 months.

Another common complaint is the cost of care, Gartrell says.

After placing her son Luka on the waitlist at the Fisher Center, University College Program Assistant Andrea Sullivan and her husband, Jerry, began looking at other options in the area.

“Jerry and I were very disappointed,” she says. “In one of the centers, the kids were just lying around in the infant room.”

“I am sorry, but there was no way I was having my child lie around the room all day for $1,200 a month.”

Sullivan’s husband ultimately decided to stay home to care for Luka.

“Because of my husband’s involvement in Luka’s upbringing, he is very advanced developmentally,” Sullivan says. “But it has killed us financially.”

Former Driscoll Center Coordinator Valerie Gemoets recently faced the same decision when she was told her longstanding partial telecommuting arrangement was being discontinued.

“If I had been able to get my two kids into Fisher, it would have cost me $1,800 a month,” Gemoets says. “This would be every penny of my monthly salary.”

Instead, Gemoets resigned from her position at DU.

“It does not make financial sense to pay someone else every bit of what I would bring home from my job to raise my children,” she says.

While Gartrell hears complaints that the College of Education’s Fisher Center is too expensive, he believes many parents have a mistaken impression of the role 
of the center.

Fisher is an early childhood education facility and that makes it more expensive than many child care centers, Gartrell says.

“While Fisher does provide discounted rates for DU faculty, staff and students, the center is not meant to be a daycare facility for the campus,” he says.

In the immediate future, the task force plans to tackle the “easy fixes” first. The human resources department is in the process of hiring a graduate assistant to create a Web-based resource center to give information about child care in the Denver metropolitan area. The task force also plans to research options for a partnership with a drop-in care facility for parents whose children are ill, on school break, or during the more than two dozen days a year that Fisher is closed for planning and holidays. 

According to Gartrell, the possibility of creating a child care center on campus is not feasible due to the cost of University salaries and benefits for employees. 

“There is no way to provide quality care in a cost-effective manner,” he says.

But the task force is committed to working on the problem and creating solutions to put parents at ease, he says. 

“We are a family-friendly campus, with policies and practices that support work-life balance issues,” says Gartrell, noting that human resources encourages and supports departments who provide flexible scheduling, telework and job-sharing opportunities for their employees.

“Employees with flexibility and security in their situation are happier, have higher morale, and are more productive and committed,” he says. “Striking that balance is in the interest of both the employee and the University as a whole.”

This article originally appeared in The Source, June 2006.

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