UA lacks adequate child care resources
We all know Jean-Baptiste Karr’s saying, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” This is, unfortunately, an accurate description of child care at the UA.
In 1998, the Summer Wildcat published a story about how it would take “at least several more years” to establish an on-campus child care center. In 2012, the Arizona Daily Wildcat published another article about how the College of Education was trying to establish an on-campus daycare center soon.
As it stands now, however, the UA is still the only Pac-12 school without an on-campus daycare.
If 15 years is long enough to make a whole new Batman movie franchise, it should have been long enough to establish something that is commonplace at other universities.
Currently, we have UA Life and Work Connections, which handles faculty, staff, undergraduate and graduate and professional childcare. LWC helps students and faculty get to know child care vocabulary and find a daycare that will fit their family’s needs, and provides campus lactation resources. LWS is also able to subsidize some child care for students and faculty.
The subsidy, however, is limited, because it can only be used for a facility certified by the Department of Economic Security, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Health Services or the UA. It also cannot be used when public school is an option or when the child care provider would come into the family home.
What LWC is doing, it is doing well. Parents who have utilized LWC said they think it is valuable, and they commended Caryn Jung, the senior coordinator in charge of child and elder care and work/life programs, for her efforts.
Erin Durban-Albrecht, a graduate student studying gender and women’s studies, first went to a consultation with Jung while she was still pregnant.
“They’re so great over there,” Durban-Albrecht said. “I really like them. I think they could do awesome things if they had more resources.”
Jung has worked to expand the final major child care resource offered through LWC: The sick child and emergency/back-up care program, which allows caregivers to come into the family’s home and care for the child during unplanned situations, like when they get sent home sick from school.
“It gives parents the opportunity to keep campus commitments and make sure their children are in good hands,” Jung said. “I often hear other universities want to do something like it.”
Despite the positive support Jung and LWC are offering, parents who have used LWC services, like Diane Daly, a doctoral student at the School of Information Resources and Library Science who receives about $2,000 in subsidies, still want an on-campus daycare.
“I would appreciate the convenience and the additional money it could save me to have on-campus child care,” Daly said. “But also, I would love if I didn’t have to completely isolate my family life from my work and school life.”
An on-campus daycare could do a lot of good for the university. Parents would probably be the most obvious group to benefit, since it would be their children in good, nearby hands, but it could also benefit early childhood education majors who could get hands-on learning experience.
Ronald Marx, the dean of the College of Education, said that the college currently works with local schools to provide this kind of hands-on experience, but it would like to expand with an official university-related lab school and child care center.
“I think that the university community could use the service, and it only makes sense if it is connected fully to the university,” he said.
Marx also said there is a partial plan written up for a lab school that would bring 200 children of students, staff and community members to university-sponsored child care. The plan would require a third party that would bring in the bulk of the full-time faculty and help pay the roughly $3 million that would be required to build a facility close to, though not on, campus.
The third party would be responsible for staffing and training, relieving the university of some of those responsibilities. Depending on the agreement reached and if the university partnered with a for-profit or nonprofit organization, there could also be the potential for future revenue.
Daycare is expensive. Daly said she pays about $6,000 per year at a local preschool, and Durban-Albrecht compared half-time care for her 10-month-old to paying a second tuition. A university-affiliated daycare would not necessarily be more affordable for parents, but an on-campus location would be far more convenient.
Julia Palfreyman, a JD candidate at the College of Law and co-founder of the UA Law Parents Club, gave birth to her son as an undergraduate, five days before the semester started. She was allowed to take the semester off and keep her scholarship, which she said she admires the university for allowing, but she has still had difficulties.
“I’m in a lot more debt than I would have been otherwise,” she said, citing daycare that costs about as much as her rent as a primary source of financial drain.
The question then arises: Would opening a daycare fully solve the UA’s child care problems? Brooke Lober, a graduate student in gender and women’s studies, said the problem is not simply financial, but cultural.
“On a cultural level, the university advertises itself as a child-free environment,” Lober said.
There are some groups that are trying to change that, but most have only found limited success.
The Graduate and Professional Student Council allocated an additional $25,000 to go towards the LWC office for supporting student parents, both undergraduates and graduates. According to Zachary Brooks, the president of GPSC, GPSC was also willing to work with the College of Education to get a daycare on campus. Unfortunately, that fell through.
“Last I heard, a few months ago, it wasn’t going anywhere,” Brooks said. He added that he was willing to work with anyone to make progress. “We can’t do it ourselves, and we’re glad to do what we can.”
Meanwhile, the Commission on the Status of Women family care workgroup has made efforts toward creating a more welcoming atmosphere by pushing for changing tables and high chairs across campus.
Student-run organizations like the Law Parents Club and Parents in the English Graduate Union provide fellow parents with resources like daycare recommendations and social events.
Despite the work these organizations are doing, the UA still is not particularly child-friendly. How often are children seen around campus during peak school hours? Generally, the only children on campus are on a school field trip or doing a campus tour with their parents and older siblings. When a child is just with a parent on campus at noon, they are looked at as an oddity.
“I feel like what I’m doing is perceived as pretty unusual, and that’s difficult,” Lober said.
I like kids, and as much as I would rather not have one any time soon, it makes sense for a university setting to be child friendly.
Families used to be more accepted at the UA. In 1967, the UA bought Christopher City, a miniature family housing community, about 5 miles off campus. It was designated as family housing so student parents, their children and their spouses could live together in university-owned housing. Until its shutdown and the sale of the property in 2000, the UA even provided limited child care to residents.
There has been no family housing affiliated with the university since then. Now, the expectation of a “family” on-campus seems to be in a tour group or visiting for a weekend in October.
More attention is paid to the parents of students than student parents.
We beat it at football, but the University of Oregon has us beat at family housing and child care options. Its Spencer View Apartments have 272 apartments, on-site child care at the Spencer View Co-op Family Center and access to a playground. It is less than a mile away from the campus and is one of four family housing options and multiple on-campus or nearby campus-affiliated child care facilities.
It would be great if there were an easy solution to all of these problems. Of course, if that were the case, we would not still be talking about this 15 years later.
The College of Education’s plan is promising, but it will not go anywhere if the college cannot find a third party. Left as it is, it could be years until any developments are made.
One route is to try uniting the many people who want expanded child care at the UA. When it is just the College of Education and GPSC, without other concerned organizations like the CSW family care workgroup, that’s a relatively small number of voices.
A “public ivy” university looking for someone to partner with sounds better than a single school in a university. Making the problem more visible usually means more people will try to fix it, and a university-wide conversation is needed to bring child care to the UA and to make student parents feel welcome.
David W. Mariotte is journalism sophomore. Follow him @DW_davidwallace.