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Several speakers testified Friday about the need for affordable child care and the desire for maternity leave without career penalties during a hearing by the state Senate Minority Task Force on Women's Issues.

"The need for affordable, accessible, quality child care is common to all working parents -- poor, near poor, middle income or affluent," Shirley T. Joseph, executive director of the Erie County Commission on the Status of Women, told the panel in the State Office Building on Court Street.

"The reality is that there is not enough child care available in Erie County."

Ms. Joseph said there are 127 licensed day-care centers in the county and 85 to 90 licensed family day-care homes.

"They provide slots for 7,536 children," she informed the task force. "We need three times as many slots."

The lack of child care reduces the number of job opportunities for women, testified Midge McGraw, director of labor planning and policy development for the state Department of Labor. For many women, she said, it presents a Catch-22 situation: women cannot afford baby sitters, so they cannot take the training necessary to get a job that would enable them to pay for child care.

Maternity can also create problems for those responsible for enforcing the law. District Attorney Kevin M. Dillon, whose 85-member staff of attorneys includes 31 women, said a trial judge cannot be expected to delay a criminal case because the prosecuting attorney is on maternity leave. As a result, he said, the cases of attorneys on maternity leave have to be transferred to already-overburdened staff attorneys, which he said distresses many of the female prosecutors.

His testimony was part of a plea for funds to add two attorneys to cover for those on leave.

Susan Gaska, executive director of the YWCA of Buffalo and Erie County, urged passage of state family-leave and medical-benefit laws in which women would be ensured time off from work to care for family members without jeopardizing their jobs.

"No one should have to lie to stay home and care for a sick child, or choose between leaving a child alone and having a job," she said.

County Legislator Joan K. Bozer, R-Buffalo, stressed the need to make prenatal care available to all women who need it. She also advocated additional state aid for women attending college.

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