Photo by Alexis Jenkins
For Ashleigh Jernigan and her eight-year-old daughter Kassydee, a Type 1 diabetic, child care options were limited.
The Maryland Department of Social Services childcare locator provided Jernigan with a list of facilities that could meet Kassydee’s needs. A few phone calls and visits later, Jernigan faced a harsh reality: only one of those sites could accommodate a diabetic child. For a single, working mother Jernigan had few options but to enroll Kassydee in the only center that would take her.
The Washington, D.C. area has the highest number of working mothers in the nation. Maryland has more than 350,000 children under the age of four.
Demand for childcare is increasing as the economy requires both parents to work –often longer hours – and accept the pay they are offered. This demand leads to escalating prices for childcare services in Washington, D.C. and Maryland.
The childcare search is a complicated and rigorous process parents boldly endure as they consider the various types of childcare, which include in-home services such as babysitters, nannies and au pairs, or out of home services such as relatives, family day care group homes and child care centers.
In terms of available space, 68 percent of spots in Maryland child care facilities are in centers, 22 percent are in with home-based providers and 10 percent are in alternative programs according to the Child Care Resources Handbook from the Office of Personnel Management.
Besides cost and the type of care, parents weigh many factors when choosing a placement for their child: quality of care, location, flexibility of hours, price, size of the center or class, and the individual provider or teacher.
At Creative Learning Garden in Edgewater, Md. parents can come in with their children for an observation. “A lot of people will bring their kids in, sit them in the classroom and see how they interact with their peers and teacher,” said Kari Baldwin, a former teacher at the center.
After meeting the teaching and administrative staff, an employee will discuss costs and explain the waiting list process. Baldwin says word of mouth is how most parents find a placement. Some start thinking about waiting lists before their children are born.
In Maryland, 70 percent of parents request full-time childcare, while 30 percent request part-time services according to the handbook. For part-time in-home childcare services, babysitters tend to be the least expensive option. There are websites that can locate babysitters in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, such as Urban Sitter, Sitter City and Care.com.
An alternate to a babysitter is a nanny. Part-time nannies work up to 32 hours per week while full-time nannies work longer hours and can live in the home, receiving up to $1,000 per week. Legally, parents who employ caretakers in their home are required to pay state and federal taxes.
As an alternative to these traditional caregivers, au pairs offer a full-time, in-home cultural experience that benefits both the child and the foreign caregiver. Au pairs can be found and hired through various agencies and are approved by the U.S. State Department. As of 2009, an au pair will cost a family $17,000 a year, significantly less than a full-time nanny. Demand for this alternative childcare service is on the rise; nearly 22,000 au pairs came to the U.S. in 2008, a 44 percent increase over a four-year period.
The main options for out-of-home childcare are family day care homes and childcare facilities. Family day care homes usually provide for a small group of children in the caregiver’s home and are licensed or registered with the state. There are 7,899 family childcare homes in Maryland, and only two percent are nationally accredited. The National Association for Family Child Care (NAFCC) accredits high quality family day care homes after examining the facility’s environment, health, safety, curriculum and business practices. There are more than 2,100 NAFCC accredited childcare providers in the U.S.
Jernigan turned to a family-home childcare facility when all others turned her daughter away. Kassydee is enrolled at Little Thumpers Day Care in Glen Burnie, Md. with seven other children. At the facility children do homework, crafts and play.
Despite her limited options, Jernigan is happy with her childcare situation. “You have direct contact with the person solely responsible for your kids,” Jernigan said. “I trust her more than a center because I’ve established a relationship with her…it’s personal.”
A key benefit of home-based care is that unlike day care centers, they do not always have a specific schedule, so drop-off and pick-up times are more flexible.
While some parents seek home-based care as a nurturing and familiar environment for their kids, other prefer a classroom environment offered in childcare centers, which function as a bridge into preschool or kindergarten. Children are often split into age groups and lesson plans are often implemented and tailored to each age group.
Cassidy Parker’s daughter Bella, who attends a Lutheran facility in Silver Spring, Md., moved from a private family day care at the age of one to attend a more structured daycare. “At a center, the children have to meet different guidelines and expectations which is similar to a school,” said Parker.
Parker says she also moved her kids for safety reasons. “There were times I had to say to them you need someone to come help out. There are too many kids for the teacher,” she recalled. Parker concluded that it was too easy for home-based facilities to break licensing regulations.
But perhaps the main reason some parents choose a day care center over family-based care is dependability; supervisors can substitute if a caregiver needs a sick day, but who can sub for the home-based care provider?