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Group looks to start UA childcare co-op

CHRYSTAL MCCONNELL/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Anthropology junior Mariannette Pascal and husband Eric spend the day at Himmel Park with their 10-month-old daughter Isabel.
By Shelley Shelton
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday April 30, 2003

Two student-parents have founded a support group to help offset what they see as the shortcomings of the university's limited childcare resources.

The group, called Babycats, is the brainchild of psychology senior Lisa Elliott, 39, and anthropology junior Mariannette Pascal, 26. The women met at on off-campus playgroup.

UA is not meeting the needs of student-parents, Elliott said, adding that students have been left to create their own resources.

"There are no resources for parents," said Elliott, who has a 20-month-old son. "What I'm hoping for with this group is to have a babysitting co-op, group study sessions and maybe some kind of toy and clothing exchange."

There are no places for parents to stay with their children between classes, she said, noting that the addition of diaper stations and nursing couches would be beneficial.

"I've lucked out," said Pascal, the mother of a 10-month-old daughter. "I haven't had to bring my daughter to class but I have brought her for other activities. Mainly I get dirty looks from other students, and I'm not sure where that animosity comes from."

The Babycats meetings, every Saturday at Himmel Park, are intended to be a forum where parents can exchange ideas about issues like this, the founders said.

"Before I had children, ╬friends' had such a different definition," Pascal said. "We really want to form a support network. I can't imagine not having friends around or other parents to talk to."

A support network is necessary for the child's, and the parent's, well being, Elliott said.

"My personal belief is that when people lack resources and education and support services, that's when child abuse tends to happen," she said.

As a member of the Commission on the Status of Women, which is working on a white paper about childcare that will be finished in May, Elliott said that the issue reaches further than simple inconvenience for student-parents.

"A significant amount of students drop out because of childcare," she said. While the exact statistics are not yet available, she said the white paper will detail the issue as well as instances of would-be professors, faculty, and staff who have turned down UA positions due to lack of childcare resources.

Elliott conceived the Babycats and their listserv prior to the Graduate Student Dependent and Childcare Survey, the results of which were announced yesterday. However, the group meets some of the needs outlined in the survey's conclusions.

"I just want the ball to start rolling, even if it's very slowly," she said.

One Babycats member who attended yesterday's press conference unveiling the graduate survey results expressed frustration despite the attention that the survey is bringing to the childcare issue.

"We're not the colleges we were 30 years ago where all the undergraduates are between the ages of 18 and 22," said Stefanie Hager, a molecular and cellular biology junior who is married with a 6-year-old child.

She expressed disdain at the idea that UA has no way of tracking how many undergraduates have children.

"That's not true," she said. "If they wanted to, they could. That's again, ignoring the problem." She suggested adding a question to the end-of-semester evaluations.

"In order to solve a problem, you have to be aware that there is a problem to begin with," she said. Her main concern is that UA remains the only Pacific-10 school that does not have an on-campus childcare facility.

"This is very discriminatory," she said. "It's a women's issue because women bear the brunt of child rearing."

Citing the all-female membership of Babycats, Elliott echoed Hager's thoughts.

"This is really a gender issue," she said, adding that numerous studies have shown a significant wage gap between people with higher education and those without. "The lack of childcare resources blocks access to higher incomes for people who have children."

The UA Life and Work Connections office has a Childcare and Family Resources section that administers a sick child program and offers childcare subsidy vouchers on a limited basis.

"We're trying to maximize the resources available because we're in very tough fiscal times," said Caryn Jung, Childcare and Family Resources coordinator. "We have to be very agile in terms of how we enhance services."

Elliott said the referral information she has seen from Life and Work Connections was outdated and that the program's offerings are meager.

"The politics with them is really, really deep," she said.

Elliott said she does not hold much hope for change in the future.

"Nothing is going to happen," she said. "The university will look at the graduate survey and at the white paper, and they'll pat everyone on the back and say what a good job they did. Then they will point at Life and Work Connections and just ignore it."

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