NU plans for new daycare facilities for faculty

Michele Corriston

Northwestern announced plans this month to expand childcare for faculty, staff and students in downtown Evanston just as the Organization of Women Faculty is releasing survey results calling for an on-campus option.

The University will offer two more childcare initiatives in 2012: a new center run by Bright Horizons Family Solutions and an addition to the McGaw YMCA Children’s Center, according to a press release.

“The goal is to be able to provide access to quality, affordable childcare,” said Lori Anne Henderson, NU director of work/life resources. “They are two different projects but they are motivated by the same concern.”

Both projects are in early stages of development, Henderson said. The University currently has a letter of intent from Bright Horizons, an employer-sponsored childcare company, agreeing to build a center in downtown Evanston. Bright Horizons would reserve 60 of the proposed 150 spaces for NU faculty, staff and students. The YMCA announced it will open a satellite program, expanding its Children’s Center cap by 50 children. Over 100 children of NU faculty, staff and students currently attend the YMCA’s daycare, Henderson said.

The changes, Henderson said, come after NU faculty expressed concern about the lack of sufficient care, particularly for infants.

Meanwhile, the Organization of Women Faculty began “talkbacks” about childcare this week after conducting a questionnaire last spring. Almost 600 faculty and staff members responded, said religious studies Prof. Cristina Traina, the organization’s co-chair.

The survey results concluded NU faculty do want more childcare-not in Evanston, but at NU.

“The overwhelming answer … was ‘can we please have affordable, flexible, quality childcare on campus,'” Traina said.

Economics Prof. Jannet Chang sends her two young children to the YMCA. Though she said she is happy with overall service, an on-campus daycare center would cut down her commute time and ensure her kids are close in case of an emergency.

“Of course having a new daycare and new classes is definitely a sign that the university is willing to take care of it, but personally I think there’s more to be done,” Chang said. “If we can have our own daycare, it would offer some advantages that an independent daycare wouldn’t be able to offer.”

When Chang arrived at NU in 2007 while pregnant, she said she was surprised by the limited childcare facilities. Besides a daycare center that gives NorthShore University HealthSystem employees priority, the YMCA was her only option. Gaining a spot at its Children’s Center requires advance planning; some NU parents have waited almost a year to gain access, Chang said.

“That was actually a shock to me, like I really have to prepare,” Chang said. “Not because I want to send my kid to the top-notch daycare, but to a daycare, the only one that’s available to me.”

Unlike Chang, linguistics Prof. Jessica Maye sends her one-and-a-half year-old son to a home-based daycare center. Maye said she never explored the University’s options because she works part-time. Still, she said she has heard dismay about the YMCA’s waiting list and would definitely consider using on-campus childcare.

“It would just be convenient to take your child into work with you … it’s kind of a lot of time associated with taking my son to his babysitter and then coming across town,” Maye said. “For me, it would have to be something that allows flexible plans because I’m a part-time user of childcare. A lot of systems can’t accommodate that.”

Traina commended the Bright Horizons and YMCA plans as steps in the right direction. However, she said providing more spots in Evanston isn’t the final solution. The Organization of Women Faculty plans to meet with University officials soon to present their findings.

“Although we don’t consider childcare in particular a women’s issue, it’s still something that women faculty are extremely concerned about,” Traina said.

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