Last week The Maryland Weekly published a guide to licensed, full-day, year round 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
For some parents of infants or preschoolers, a family day care home may be the best and least expensive child care. A licensed family day care provider can care for no more than four children other than her own at any one time. Because the provider is giving care in her own home, she may be more flexible about hours than operators of day care centers. She also may be able to look after a school-age child in the after school hours.
The going rate in Montgomery and Prince George's Counties is $30 to $35 per week per child for full-day care. Subsidies for care based on level of income are available. Montgomery County will pay up to $108 per month for a child in a family day care home; Prince George's County will pay up to $90. Since this falls short of the going rate ($120 a month), it is sometimes difficult to find a place for subsidized children.
The disadvantages are that the quality of care is uneven, licensing requirements are minimal and most family day care is unlicensed and unregulated.
The license, issued annully by the state on the basis of a county inspection, covers safety of 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 play equipment in safe condition. The nutritional and activity programs are reviewed by a social worker from the Department of Social Services. There is no fee for a license.
Although about 500 Montogomery County and 350 Prince George's County homes are licensed, authorities estimate that this is a small fraction of the family day care homes in operation.
"Some women don't get a license out of ignorance - they don't know they need one," said Mary Lou Hurney, supervisor for montgomery County's department of social services. "Others don't want to link in with a bureaucracy."
There is a $500 fine for operating a non-licensed home, but Hurney said that when one is reported the county tries "to reach out to them in a non-threatening way and bring them into the system. We don't want to put someone out of business - there's a great need for more family day care homes in the county - but the licenses are set up for the protection of children."
No training is required for day care providers, although both counties encourage licensed providers to take courses in early childhood development.
Because only one adult is involved in a day care home, no checks and balances exist over what happens during the day.
Another drawback is that in case of illness, either the day care provider's or the child's, back-up care must be sought.
Family day care homes that accept children subsidized by the state or county must meet more stringent qualifications than those required for licensing. There can be no more than six children, including the provider's own, under 6 years old an no more than five if one is under 2 years of age, and no more than two under 2 years of age. About one-third of the licensed homes in both counties are qualified to take subsidized children.
In assessing a day care home, Peggy Click, a family day care provider and president of the Montgomery County Day Care Association, suggested parents check on the daily schedult. "Infants and older preschoolers require different schedules and what's good for one may not be good for the other."
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 the cribs, playpens and yards for safety and to inquire about outside activities such as playground trips.
"It's very important to discuss discipline - what type is used an how it varies from your own ideas," she said. "We can't spank and if a parent spanks at home, it causes confusion here. Discipline and daily routine should be as closely matched to home 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 at those times.
The departments of social service in Montgomery County, telephone 279-1791, and in Prince George's County, telephone 927-4600, can give information on family day care homes.
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 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 the general up, laundry or cooking.
The drawbacks are not insignificant. No licensing is required in Maryland 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.
Parents are often at the mercy of unstable health or family life of their housekeeper who, without warning, may not show up for work. Unless transportation can be provided, children of 3 and 4 years of age who would benefit from group play will be isolated.
The minimum wage in Maryland is $2.30 an hour an employers of housekeepers must also pay transportation costs and Social Security.Since a housekeeper must work longer hours than her employer - generally she must be there to cover the employer's commuting time - she generally works a 10-hour day, five days a week, at a minimum of $115 per week.
A live-in housekeeper is sometimes less expensive. Area mother report paying as low as $40 to $60 a week plus room and 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."
Finding a good housekeeper may be more difficult than paying for her. According to Meg Reisett of Montgomery County's Four C's, a child advocacy group, mothers should start out by asking friends and neighbors if they know anyone. "if that fails, go through newspapers or community service agencies."
The Maryland State Employment Agency used to refer names of housekeepers looking for work.
"Now we rarely, if ever, have anyone look for that kind of work," said Dina Hardin, of the Prince George's County branch of the Agency." We get plenty of requests for housekeepers, though. When we can't fill them locally, which is usually, we send the requests to the metro area job bank. But even there domestic help is hard to find."
For some families, the idea of importing housekeeping help becomes attractive. To hire an alien, Maryland residents must first locate the prospective worker and then apply for labor certification for them. They must prove no U.S. worker is available. To do this, they run two advertisements in local newpapers, one directing the applicant to the employer, the other to the State Employment Office.
The job must be offered at the prevailing rate and a job order must be filed with the employment office. In Prince George's and Montgomery counties, the employment office will screen applicants who answer the ad or job order before referring them to the prospective employer.
If the employer can prove no qualified person is available for the job, she calls the employment office's alien representative. Proff of the attempt to hire an American worker plus documentation about the qualifications of the alien are forwarded to the Department of Labor's regional office in Philadelphia, where the case is decided.
If approved, a labor certification card is issued. The employer must be willing to pay $2.50 to $2.75 an hour plus room and board.
"That is the prevailing rate and must be stipulated in a contract betwen alien and employer. The idea is to prevent any adverse effect on the wages of U.S. workers in similar employment," said John Storms, alien labor certification representative for the College Park office.
The telephone number of the state employment office is 949-5300 in Montgomery County and 441-2130 in Prince George's County.
When it comes time to interview housekeeper candidates, Reisett of the Four C's advises parents 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. "Look for things like tone of voice, mannerisms, ability tokeep conversation with children going," Reisett advised.