Montage of our solar system

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., was honored last week by the Congressional Caucus for Women's Issues for the Laboratory's longstanding commitment to making quality child care available to its employees.

The Laboratory was one of 19 employers in the nation to receive "Pioneer Awards" from the caucus for innovative efforts to provide child-care benefits to its employees through the JPL/Caltech Community Child Educational Center (CEC).

The awards were result of the caucus' Child Care Challenge, launched last fall, which invited members of Congress to identify the oldest and best employer-sponsored child care programs in their districts and states. An additional 24 U.S. companies were recognized for being "Best on the Block" in providing quality child care for their employees.

"The American Family faces an enormous challenge in securing quality child care, and its time for both business and government to help them meet that challenge," said Rep. Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, co-chair of the caucus, in presenting the awards.

Employer-sponsored child care at JPL began in 1979 at the behest of the Director's Advisory Council for Women and with the support of then-Director Dr. Bruce Murray. The CEC was one of California's first child-care centers to be organized by employees and sponsored in part by the employer.

Child-care professionals Eric Nelson and Elyssa Nelson have

managed the center since its inception. The CEC is non- profit organization independent from but affilited with JPL/Caltech.

The Congressional Caucus for Women's Issues also released report on how the Child Care Challenge is being met by employers. The report notes that while many employers are taking steps to meet this need, only an estimated 3,300 of the 44,000 companies with more than 100 employees provide child-care services to their workers.

"Employers overwhelmingly agree that increased morale, productivity, loyalty, and retention are the byproducts of the implementation of child-care program for their workers," the report said.

Laboratory officials agreed with the report's findings. "JPL's affiliation with child-care center projects the image of an employer that cares about its employees and about families and children," said Betty Shultz of the Laboratory's Human Resources Division, which is the administrative liaison between JPL and the CEC. The availability of nearby, employer-sponsored child care, she said, makes JPL attractive to potential employees, and is regarded as recruiting and retention mechanism for the Laboratory.

According to the Conference Board, research organization that works with the business sector, more than half the companies that offer child-care benefits do so as part of firm's flexible benefit plan. Only about 200 corporations, 500 hospitals, and 50 government agencies currently sponsor on- or near-site child-care centers. Another 800 companies provide their workers with information and referral services on available child-care programs.

For nine years, the CEC has operated out of classroom and play-yard space leased from the La Canada- Flintridge School District. Seventy-nine of the 179 youngsters enrolled in the CEC are the children of JPL/Caltech employees. The Child Care Assistance Program, sponsored by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and administered by JPL, provides support to low-and middle-income parents with children enrolled at the CEC. In addition, JPL/Caltech provides the CEC with financial assistance to lower monthly rates for younger children (six weeks to three-years old). Monthly rates in the older age groups (three through four-years old) are competitive with rates of comparable child-care facilites in the local community.

Plans call for the CEC to enlarge both its facilities and enrollment. The more than 200 children on the CEC's waiting list attest to the demand for quality child care for parents working outside the home.

The caucus report on the Child Care Challenge is being distributed to members of Congress and made available to businesses and communities in hopes the information provided will encourage other employers to implement child care programs for their workers.

JPL is an operating division of the California Institute of Technology, and is operated under contract to NASA.

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