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Vol. LX, No. 5
March 07, 2008

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Very Good Services, More Needed
NIH Child Care Program Assessed

On the front page...

A new assessment shows the NIH Child Care Services Program is successful in several ways, but could greatly benefit from more slots for kids in child care centers to alleviate an unusually long waiting list. To stay competitive, NIH should also have more family-friendly benefits like backup child care and paid time off or short-term disability for maternity leave, the research suggested.

Dr. Michael Kirsch, vice president of the company that conducted the assessment, IMPAQ International, offered these and other findings at a recent NIH child care board meeting here.


The study’s objectives, he explained, were to determine the return on investment for NIH child care services, to benchmark NIH’s program against 12 other organizations, to determine future needs and to develop recommendations for improvements. The firm reviewed surveys, interviewed NIH stakeholders, administered a web-based survey to members of the NIH parenting listserv, analyzed postings on that email list and compared NIH’s program to those of outside organizations.

The stakeholders believe that child care services “are crucial in promoting the overall mission of NIH,” Kirsch said. They think additional child care programs would help attract new talent and retain employees and that the current program keeps NIH competitive with universities and other organizations vying for the same workers. Stakeholders believe challenges include the high cost of services, a limited number of facilities, the long waiting list for child care slots and a lack of employee awareness of programs and services available to them.

Parents added more to the assessment. Kirsch and his colleagues learned that parents with children at NIH centers say the program, to a great extent, helps them accrue fewer absences and experience less stress. Most respondents also rated the quality of NIH programs as “better or much better than other organizations.”

What areas do they find lacking? According to the survey, 76 percent of the parents wanted to see additional child care centers with more slots for children. Meanwhile, 64 percent of parents surveyed want to see opportunities for more flexible work schedules.

The benchmarking study compared NIH’s child care services to those of six federal agencies, four universities and two companies in the private sector. Areas in which NIH ranks higher than average include its number of child care centers: only one other organization had more than NIH’s three. NIH also has a higher number of slots and serves a broader age-range of children than many others. NIH’s programs rank about the same as the other organizations in several areas, such as the cost of services.

In what ways does NIH rank lower? First and foremost with the number of people on the waitlist. NIH has 1,105 employees waiting for a slot, while the next highest organization, the CDC, has 400. These employees also have longer to wait: the current average time on the NIH list is more than 1.5 years; most others were less than a year. Five of the other organizations offer backup child care while NIH does not. Unlike NIH, five of them also allow employees to use short-term disability for maternity leave. Two of the benchmarked organizations, Duke University and Fannie Mae, also provide paid time off after childbirth.

Kirsch said the assessment shows that child care services here clearly support the NIH mission and play a key role in the recruitment and retention of staff. NIH appears to be among the better child care programs being offered by the benchmarked organizations, especially in terms of the number of child care centers and the quality of care.

But NIH, one of the first agencies to offer child care in the 1970s, is no longer “leading edge” in its child care programs, he said, noting that most of the competing organizations offer a similar set of programs, services and resources and are offering expanded benefits to their employees that NIH doesn’t.

Addressing these issues, Kirsch noted, could help NIH stay competitive in recruiting—and keeping—talented employees as quality child care, family-friendly benefits and flexible work schedules become bigger priorities, even requisites, for the modern workforce. NIHRecord Icon

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