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For Marilyn Smith, it's the little things that have sold her on the concept of on-site child care.

Things like sharing lunch with her 21/2-year-old son at the annual Mother's Day luncheon, finger painting or tagging along on a field trip to the zoo. "It sounds like little things, but it means a lot to him," said Smith, commission management analyst for the Salt Lake County Commission staff office.Smith lives in Ogden and is seeking a master's degree from the University of Utah. She says the on-site child-care center at the Salt Lake County Government Center helps her juggle the roles of professional, mother, student, homemaker and commuter.

"I could have never taken on the `back and forth' if it wasn't for on-site day care. If I didn't have on-site day care, I wouldn't have the option of working for Salt Lake County," Smith said.

Salt Lake County and the Utah health department provide space for the child-care centers, but they are operated by a private provider.

Lynn Meinor, health educator in the health department's Bureau of HIV/AIDS, uses on-site child care for her two daughters, ages 2 and 5.

"It really has alleviated a lot of headaches. I had chosen other options for my 5-year-old and I also utilized a nanny for six months. This is the one I prefer, mainly because of the fact that if I'm feeling they didn't feel good that morning, I can go right down and see how they're doing. I think it's made it easier to be productive. I know if I want to see them any time at work, I can just run downstairs and do that," Meinor said.

Another benefit is provider accountability, she said. Since the child-care center has an open-door policy, the provider is subject to full-time scrutiny.

"Another benefit is it really encourages mothers who work in the building to breastfeed," she said.

Day-care choices vary by income; parents' work schedules; proximity to family members, close friends or day-care centers; and personal preference.

A recent national poll conducted by the Gallup Organization Inc. showed 31 percent of American workers prefer on-site child care over other forms of child care. Pollsters questioned 664 people (18 and older) who work outside the home, and the poll carries a 4 percent margin of error.

There is no "one size fits all" solution to the day-care dilemma. About the only thing child-care experts agree upon is that the demand for quality child care is growing.

By the end of the century, about two-thirds of new workers are expected to be women, and about 75 percent will become pregnant during their working years, U.S. Department of Labor Department research shows.

For single mothers, the issue of child care presents unique problems, especially if they work odd hours.

"Most of our swing shift parents are single mothers with no relatives in town," said Katie Perkins, director of the on-site child-care center at the Internal Revenue Service's Ogden Center, which is open 20 hours a day to accommodate shift work.

When parents work the swing shift, some children bring alongtheir pajamas, with tooth brush and teddy bear in tow. After dinner, the little ones may hear a bedtime story before they settle down to sleep. The parents' shift ends about 1:30 a.m.

The center is accredited through the National Association of Education for Young Children, which Perkins said helps give parents confidence in its practices and philosophy.

"In today's society you don't have a choice. If you've got to work then you've got to put your kids somewhere. You might as well put them somewhere they are going to get the best."