Last week The District Weekly published a guide to licensed, full-day, year-around day care centers for children. This week The Weekly examines two other solutions to child care: Family day care homes where a provider, usually a woman who has children of her own, takes children into her home for full or part-day care; and in-home care where a housekeeper or babysitter is hired. The Family Day Care Home
A family day care home may be the best and least expensive child care solution for some parents.
In the District, a licensed day care home may provide care for no more than five childen, including the provider's own. Because the provider is giving care in her own home, she may be more flexible about hours than operators of day care centers. If she lives in the same neighborhood as the parents, she may be able to look after a school-age child in the after-school hours.
The going rate for care in a home varies widely throughout the city, with fees of $30 per week per child near the top of the scale. Subsidies for family day care homes are available through the day care branch of the social rehabilitation administration of the department of human resources (629-5954).
In oerder to operate in the District, a family day care home should be licensed by DHR. Only about 450 are, but at least twice as many exist, according to a child care specialist at DHR. The license, issed annually and based on an inspection, covers the environment, the health of the day care provider and the number of children the provider can care for. The homes must have fire extinguishers, smoke detectors, electric outlet guards, and safe play equipment. The nutritional and activity program are reviewed.
No training is required for family day care providers. A list of licensed homes is published by DHR's Licensing and Standards (629-5846).
"It is in the parent's interest to use a licensed home," said Herman Cook, a child care specialist with DHR. "One way we find out about unlicensed homes is when a parent complaints because there is discomfort to the child. Then we have to go in and cite deficiencies."
In addition to the unlicensed, unregulated side of family day care homes, there are other drawbacks. Because only one adult is involved in the care provided, no checks and balances exist over what happens during the day. While the activity plan may call for two hours of outdoor play, children could be left in front of the television.
In case of illness - the day care provider or the child's parents must find back-up care.
In assessing a day care home, Herman Cook advises parents to go to the home and see the license. "Parents and providers should affiliate with professional organizations in child development so that they are aware of trends in early childhood education," he added. A family day care home provider suggests parents check on the daily schedule. "Infants and older pre-schoolers require different schedules and what's good for one may not be good for the other," she said. She also advised parents to ask about the type of meals and snacks to be served, to tour the home and see the facilities for napping, playing and toilet training; to check cribs, playpens and yards for safety and to inquire about outside activities such as trips to area playgrounds.
"It's very important to discuss discipline - what type and how it varies from your own ideas," she said. "I don't spank and if a parent spanks at home, it causes confusion here. Discipline and daily routine should be as closely matched as possible."
Before signing on with a family day care home, parents should find out the provider's policy for overtime, vacation and sick days and whether fees apply to those times.
Hiring a housekeeper or babysitter has distinct advantages for a working mother. It is the most traditional form of paid care, and one that leads to the least number of questions by the parents about careers and economic needs versus the welfare of the child. More importantly, the child or children stay in the warmth of the home environment.
For some parents, another advantage of in-home care is in the control they can exert over the safety of the environment, the type of play equipment, and the rules of child rearing. As an added bonus, the housekeeper will usually provide help in the form of general clean up, laundry or cooking.
The drawbacks are not insignificant. No licensing is required for the health or training of housekeepers. Few have backgrounds in child development. It is up to the parents to check that the care they are paying for is actually being provided.
"I found out from a neighbor that my housekeeper was visiting friends and running errands while my 4 month-old son was left home alone in his crib," reported one woman.
Parents are often at the mercy of the unstable health or family life of their housekeeper who, without warning, may not show up for work. And unless transportation can be provided, children of 3 and 4 years of age who would benefit from group play may be isolated.
The minimum wage in the District is $2.50 an hour and employers of housekeepers must also pay for transportation and Social Security. Since a housekeeper must work longer hours than her employer - generally she must be ther to cover the employer's commuting time - she generally works a 10-hour day, five days a week. Her salary usually is a minimum of $125 a week.
One woman, an attorney with a congressional subcommittee, said she pays her housekeeper more than the minimum wage. "I don't think you can pay people a low wage and expect them to approach their jobs in a professional way. I feel the additional money made her feel a certain dignity and sense of responsibility about the job. Maybe I was just lucky, but she has turned out to be very conscientious and reliable," said the attorney.
A live-in housekeeper is sometimes less expensive. Area mothers report paying as low as $40 to $60 a week plus room an board. Others pay more. One woman, who is going to medical school, pays $125 a week for live-in help.
"I expect a lot from my housekeeper in terms of long hours and responsibilities - she has to cook, clean and provide care well into the evening. I want to be free to study at the library at night if I need to, and I pay her well to accept these responsibilities," she said.
Finding a good housekeeper may be more difficult than paying for her. The number of people applying for such possitions through the District's Job Bank is down.
"Such employees are not as prevalent as they were two or three years ago," said Joseph Hawkins of the Job Bank. "Live-in housekeepers are even more difficult to find."
When looking for a housekeeper most families rely on word of mouth or ads in local newspapers. When that fails, they may turn either to a D.C. government agency, Manpower, or to a private employment agency.
For some families, the idea of importing a housekeeper becomes attractive. To hire an alien, District residents must first locate the prospective worker and then apply for labor certification. (724-3814) To do this they register the job with the Job Bank (724-3785) and advertise at least twice in the newspaper. The ad and job bank must offer the job at the prevailing rates.
If no satisfactory U.S. worker can be found, proof of the attempt to hire a U.S. worker plus documentation of the qualifications of the alien are forwarded by Manpower to the Department of Labor's regional office in Philadelphia where a decision is made.
If approved, a certification card is issued. The employer must be willing to pay $2.40 to $2.75 an hour plus room and board. Then the employer goes to the immigration office at 1025 Vermont Ave. NW for a visa or adjustment of status for the employee.
"The majority of district applications are certified," said Flora Richardson, chief of employer technical services at Manpower. "In almost all cases both parents are employed and have small children or a person is ill in the home and the family needs someone to live in to care for children."
When it comes time to interview housekeeper candidates, parents are advised to check all references, to interview the most likely candidates more than once, and to ask for health certificates.
During the interview, give the housekeeper a chance to talk with children. Child care specialists advise parents to look for things like tone of voice, mannerisms, ability to keep conversation with children going.
Discuss with the housekeeper how she would handle situations, particularly pertaining to discipline. Housekeeper and parents should have an understanding of what is permissable and what is not. For example, are trips outside the home allowed? What about snacks between meals? Also, the method of toilet training should be understood.
Several women who have had positive experiences with housekeepers suggest that at a certain point you have to trust you personal reactions.
"I've had a wonderful housekeeper for eight years," said one working mother. "When she started working for me she had no other child raising experience beyond her own family but, frankly, it was love at first sight. We hit it off and we've always been able to understand each other." "I'm sure that was not the best way to hire someone, but it worked for me."