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child care

At Simon Fraser University, providing superior onsite childcare has been part of the institution’s philosophy for decades.

For working parents, the joys of having a new baby can swiftly diminish when faced with finding safe, loving child care once maternity leave ends.

The Top 100 Employers list includes a dozen employers offering this family-friendly perk. Some also offer attractive advantages not always available at regular licensed daycares, including environmental programs, highly trained instructors and unique environments.

At Simon Fraser University, providing superior onsite childcare has been part of the institution's philosophy for decades. The first buildings opened at the Burnaby, B.C., campus in 1978 and the daycare has grown to include 283 spaces. This year, SFU opened a state-of-the-art facility that it hopes will be granted Living Building status – the highest standard of sustainability currently offered. Children play in a centre built with locally sourced, non-toxic materials, energy is generated by solar panels and the design incorporates the natural surroundings of the campus.

But more than being unique in design, the SFU Childcare Society is about quality childcare, says Pat Frouws, executive director.

"We have a great reputation. The best thing is that SFU catches the vision we have of child care that every child deserves. It's not just a square box." Curriculum is based on the early learning philosophy of early childhood education, and allows teachers to be co-learners with kids.

For example, children in the 3-5 age group are studying the forest, which means they head out for walks and observe the forest's sights and sounds, while teachers document their questions. They then use this material for further study.

Ms. Frouws says employers considering onsite daycares should not just focus on creating a space for it, but ensure that the care is superior.

"Imagine if you are teaching and working, knowing your children are in one of the best facilities in the province or country. You can attend to your job a lot easier."

Workplace daycare is not common in Canada. One often-repeated reason is that setting up a new daycare is a costly venture – $10,000 per year per new child care space, according to 2006 Ontario government figures. Thus, most companies don't want to take on either the cost or the responsibility of getting into the child care business.

On the current Top 100 list, the majority of companies offering on-site daycare are either in British Columbia or Quebec.

One of those, the head office of Ledcor Group of Companies in Vancouver, offers a licensed daycare within its office tower, which it shares with several other employers.

Adam Cochrane, who is director of preconstruction and business development for Ledcor, says the Shaw Tower Children's Centre has been a lifesaver for his family.

The first advantage was the relief of getting a priority spot because he was an employee, Mr. Cochrane says. It took off the pressure of scrambling for one of the limited spots in the city. He says he loves the convenience of reducing the morning chaos by being able to drop off his wife at work, then drive to Ledcor, take his daughters straight to their daycare in the building and continue up the elevator to work.

"If there is ever an issue, if one of the girls gets sick, then I can be there in a minute if I have to be."

He says it gives him more time in the day to spend with Madeline, 4, and Charlotte, 2. "If they were close to our home versus close to our work it would take me 25 minutes to get to them."

The daycare is part of the highly sought-after Vancouver Society of Children's Centres, which has a city-wide waiting list of more than 2,000 families. Staff, many who have been there for years, treat his daughters "like family," Mr. Cochrane says.

He says another advantage of the centre is that because he knows that the care is high quality, he is able to go about his work day worry-free. "Trying to find a group that will look after your kids like you want them to be looked after, it puts your mind at ease."

There are good reasons for employers to provide daycare for their workers, says Marilyn Reddick, vice-president, human resources at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, which has 71 licensed spaces, 60 per cent of which are reserved for employees and 40 per cent for the community.

If a workplace is made up of many female workers, such as a hospital, it is a competitive advantage to offer these programs, she says.

"We all know that females carry the burden when it comes to establishing the daycare. So what we have done is to try to help our large young female population cope with this the best we can."

Otherwise, she says, nurses may leave for other hospitals that have better child-care options.

Because it's right on site, the licensed, not-for-profit Sunnybrook Creche Childcare Centre offers workers the ability to drop off their kids and "really concentrate on their jobs," she says. Sunnybrook also partners with a program called Kids and Company, which can help employees not lucky enough to land a spot (there is a long waiting list) find another daycare near their home and also provides emergency daycare, should they need it.

Challenges to operating an onsite daycare do exist, says Ms. Reddick. "I think the biggest challenge is having an appropriate space and maintaining talented, well-qualified staff." She says fortunately, the daycare has a low employee turnover, but that isn't the case for many daycares.

She admits that it takes a lot of extra work for an organization and there can be safety concerns with having children at an adult workplace, but for Sunnybrook it is well worth it to maintain a long-serving work force which is 70 per cent female.

In Montreal, L'Oreal Canada offers a subsidized on-site daycare as a way to attract and keep excellent employees, says Javier San Juan, president and CEO. "We understand that the best way for talent to fully develop their potential is to make sure that they have a very happy professional life and also a happy and full personal life."

Last year, the L'Oreal Kids daycare underwent a renovation and is now up to 67 full-time spaces for staff children.

Mr. San Juan says that an onsite daycare means that employees are assured that their children are "in good hands," and that means more commitment and concentration on the job.

He says one of the biggest difficulties is the daycare's long waiting list. Though the company is diligent about keeping the list up to date, it is still difficult for parents who may not get a spot.

But he adds that for those with children at L'Oreal Kids, it provides another way for employees from different departments to create bonds. "It promotes friendships among employees."

Providing daycare goes back to supporting workers who want to have children, he says, in order to ensure the long-term growth of the company with staff who are highly skilled and motivated.

"A lot of our employees are at the age of having a family or growing a family. We try to make it easier for them."