October 16, 2006

University to Open Much-Needed Child Care Facility

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When the five-year-old child of a former Cornell undergraduate alumnus and current graduate student became ill, she faced a dilemma many adults must deal with at some point in their life.

“The question I was faced with was, do I go to that meeting, that class or stay with my child?” said the graduate student, who wished to remain anonymous.

Unable to find someone to take care of her son for a couple hours while she taught a history section, she resolved to bring him along.
“The week that my son was ill I missed all of my classes with the exception of my section, because I have an obligation to my students, too,” she said. “Mothers and fathers are crying for a facility where parents can drop their child off for a couple of hours.”

Building on this need, Cornell recently announced plans to open a new child care facility for faculty, staff and students. The center will house 158 infants, toddlers and pre-school age children. News that the daycare would open was announced only a few days after Cornell was one of only two universities named to the annual “100 Best Employers for Working Mothers” list in this month’s Working Mother Magazine.

Vice President for Human Resources Mary Opperman said that although the announcement of the new daycare plans followed closely behind the recognition in Working Mother, the University has been working to get the necessary approvals and funding to allow a new child care center for several years now. New regulations have forced many providers to close recently.

“We have had a scarcity of child care spaces, and that need has grown significantly over the last few years,” Opperman said. “We have heard this from students, faculty and staff, and we have been working to construct a child care center for quite some time.”

Lynette Chappell-Williams, director of the Office of Workforce Diversity, Equity and Life Quality, said that the late-coming presence of a campus located childcare facility does not indicate a lack in support given to faculty, staff and students with families. Cornell has a child grant program that defrays the cost of childcare by allowing University community members to select a provider and use the funds to help cover the costs.

“Our employees commute from eight different counties, and many of them prefer that their child care provider be close to their home because they have back up systems there,” Williams said. “If the provider or child becomes ill or the provider has to close due to weather, there are friends and family there who can pick up the child.”

Still, in the case of the graduate student who had to bring her child to class to fulfill her obligations as a student and mother, the grant did not help her situation, and to her, bringing a childcare facility to Cornell has been a long time coming.
“I did my masters at Yale two years ago and Yale had seven child care facilities on campus. Some were devoted specifically to particular graduate schools,” she said. “I find it almost embarrassing that Cornell is just now, in 2006, bringing a significantly sized childcare facility on campus.”

Finding ways to accommodate the child-care concerns of University community members have been a developing problem. It was only two years ago that Cornell implemented child-care grant/financial assistance for graduate, professional and undergraduate students to help cover the expenses of their child-care.

“Last year the University began installing diaper changing stations in locations frequented by graduate students, such as the Big Red Barn,” Williams said.

Williams said the new childcare center should alleviate some of the difficult experiences parents at Cornell encounter.

“It will improve the ability for faculty and staff to balance work and family responsibilities and should help students with children to better balance their studies and family responsibilities,” she said.

Opperman said the Office of Work and Family has tried hard to find creative ways to support issues of working mothers over the past 15 years.

“Cornell has tried to understand emerging issues for graduate students, as well as faculty and staff,” she said. “Addressing these issues has been a priority, and the Working Mother recognition is a wonderful acknowledgement of the hard work and commitment of our leaders.”

The University’s dedication to meeting growing needs of the Cornell community will not stop at the groundbreaking ceremony of the new daycare center, according to Opperman.

“I’m very proud of what Cornell has done to address the needs of our working mothers and fathers, but I also take seriously our obligation to listen to our faulty, students and staff, and continue to work hard to meet emerging needs,” Opperman said. “We can’t do everything, but we need to keep listening and keep doing our best to be responsive.”

The location of the child-care facility has not yet been determined. Tentative plans slate the center to open late next year or in early 2008.