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The majority of households with children under the age of 6 in the region are homes in which both parents work. Across the country, working parents face the struggle to find reliable, high-quality care for young children. Given the career demands in the legal industry, many lawyers and professionals at major law firms face the same struggle. Law firms have considered numerous ways to assist working parents, from flexible, part-time employment to emergency child care. As part of Covington & Burling‘s plan to provide a family-friendly solution to the conflict many individuals face of trying to balance their personal life and their professional career, we began to evaluate the child care needs of the firm in 1999. Many times, young professionals simply choose another career when the obstacles of their personal life collide with their career. Our firm wanted to help reduce this conflict by providing a real alternative to families with young children. To add to the difficulty, the availability of appropriate and available child care in the Penn Quarter of Washington was limited to emergency drop-in care. Covington quickly found that the need for accessible child care was astonishing. We decided that the firm, its lawyers and staff, and their families would benefit from a full-service, safe, educationally accredited child care facility. Little did we realize that this initiative would take three years. The firm received a great deal of help from child care centers in the area. As many of the child care centers had waiting lists of 50-100 families, we quickly came to the conclusion that the firm should build a center that could accommodate the entire eligible population. Covington employs members of approximately 150 families with young children ranging from newborn to 5 years old. After a review of surveys done internally and information from our partner in this project, Bright Horizons Family Solutions, we determined a center for 96 children would adequately serve the needs of the Washington office. The first challenge we faced was finding suitable space. Due to regulations for child care facilities, we had to find space that would meet strict building, fire, and licensing requirements. Additionally, we felt that the child care center had to be located either inside our office building or within easy walking distance of it. We wanted parents to be able to spend time with their children throughout the day. FINDING THE LOCATION We quickly found that while there was plentiful space in Penn Quarter, landlords were resistant to the idea of a child care facility. Unfortunately, many landlords, including our own office building landlord, would not enter into any discussions with us because they did not want children in their building. It took us almost two years to locate the space at 1331 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W., directly across the street from Covington’s office. The landlord was not only supportive of a child care center but caught the vision of what a quality child care center would add to his property. As we searched for a location, we hired the architectural firm SKB Architecture & Design in Washington to design the center. SKB was chosen primarily for its expertise in designing several child care centers in the area. The firm also demonstrated the ability to incorporate sophisticated design elements and technology with functionality and, ultimately, created a unique child care center focused on education in a comfortable homelike setting. Once the space was located and designed, we began the arduous process of obtaining building permits, occupancy permits, and licensure. Child care centers are highly regulated. Despite this fact, no specific guidelines are published for those wishing to create a child care center. The bureaucracy surrounding the permitting and licensing process can be discouraging. SKB was a great asset to us in helping to guide the firm. From the inception of the process, providing a safe and secure environment was at the core of the development. Covington Kids, our child care center, was designed with state-of-the-art technology to protect the children. The systems were designed by Covington’s director of security, who has an extensive background in security technology. Covington Kids is monitored 24 hours a day, seven days a week by the security staff at the firm. The conceptualization of Covington Kids was always focused on providing a structured and nationally reputable educational experience for the children in the center. We interviewed three educational providers and chose to partner with Bright Horizons. Bright Horizons offers employer-sponsored child care and early education. We support Bright Horizons’ views that children begin to learn from the moment they are born and how each child learns is surprisingly different. These two critical issues, early learning and individual learning styles, are the cornerstones of Bright Horizons’ curriculum, “The World at Their Fingertips.” Covington Kids has been open for more than six months and is well on its way to achieving its goals. With the assistance of Bright Horizons, the firm developed a three-year growth plan for the center. This plan calls for the center to be partially occupied during the early years. This will provide assurances to enrolled families that space will be available for their children as they advance from one classroom to another. While we would love to have the center fully occupied at all times, the slower pace will ensure that the early quality of the program can be maintained during expansion. Currently, the firm has 20 children enrolled in the center, with waiting lists for infants and toddlers. By the end of its first year, Covington Kids will be on track to have 40 children enrolled. We have found that additional infant rooms are in high demand, given the unavailability of quality infant care. Covington Kids boasts an infant care ratio of two children per caregiver, which makes it a highly sought-after solution for young families. As tempting as it is to turn the entire center to infant care, we are sticking with our original plan of providing an educational facility that will grow with the children. The feedback from parents who have children enrolled at the center has been positive. Jennifer Johnson, a new mother and a partner at the firm, considered a number of options when she learned that she was pregnant. She and her husband, who is Brazilian, considered hiring a nanny for their son. They looked into finding a Brazilian nanny to care for their baby because they want him to be bilingual. When Johnson learned that Covington Kids was scheduled to open, she began to consider child care because she was interested in the concept of having a center at the office. While on maternity leave she attended sessions on the center and learned about the space, the Bright Horizons program, and the favorable teacher-child ratios. After researching the options, she and her husband chose Covington Kids for a number of reasons, including the open-door policy for parents, which let her visit her son, and nurse him during the day; the design of the center, which assured that her son would be safe; and the program that was geared to child development, not just maintenance, with stimulating toys and activities each day. The price was also a benefit, as the cost of care is significantly less than the cost of a nanny. In addition, instead of having to provide a salary increase each year, as would be likely with a nanny, the cost of care at the center actually decreases as the child ages. Johnson was also pleased with the personal care that she received at Covington Kids. For example, when she first returned to work, the teachers in her son’s classroom coordinated with her by phone each day so that she could be there to nurse him for at least one meal a day. At the end of each day they provide reports about what her son ate and when, when he slept, when his diaper was changed, his mood, and his activities. “My transition back to work was surprisingly easy because my son was right there across the street, in an environment that I felt was safe, stimulating, and nurturing,” explains Johnson. “From the beginning, I felt like the center and I were working together in the best interests of my son, and I still feel that way.” From the beginning, the teachers and the director of the center have asked how they can encourage her son’s exposure to his Brazilian side, since they know that is important to the Johnsons. Every day they play Brazilian-music CDs that she provided. Recently, Johnson called the center because she missed her son and wanted to know how he was doing. She received an e-mail within a half-hour with pictures of her son having a great time. Covington is committed to providing solutions to the problem of balancing work and life, and Covington Kids has been a significant addition to that program. Our law firm was the first in Washington to offer lawyers the option of working part-time while advancing toward full partnership. We offer primary caregivers three months and non-primary caregivers four weeks of paid time off upon the birth or adoption of a child. We also recognize that families today are not always traditional. The firm supports domestic partners by offering medical and other benefits to domestic partners. Covington Kids has gone a long way to helping new families adjust to the pressures of family life.
John Waters is the executive director of Covington & Burling in Washington, D.C.

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