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FAMILY LIFE

Sometimes Day Care Is a Nightmare to Find

November 21, 1987|JAN HOFMANN | For The Times

When the pregnancy test came back positive, the Orange County woman burst into tears. Tears of joy, yes--the blessed event was a planned one--but mixed in with tears for another reason.

"I knew I would have to find child care or I couldn't go back to work," she says. "And if I couldn't go back to work, we couldn't afford a child."

Thousands of Orange County families are struggling with that Catch-22, according to a 1984 report by the Orange County Commission on the Status of Women. "Many families are finding that it takes two incomes to make ends meet to live in Orange County," says the report, titled, "How Can We Work and Care for Our Children?"

The report estimated that by 1988, 113,533 Orange County children 14 years and younger will need spaces in licensed child-care facilities. That number is based on the assumption that the rest of the estimated 294,000 children of working families in Orange County will be cared for by relatives. But the study found just 33,467 licensed spaces available in 1984, without much growth anticipated.

That leaves roughly two out of three families scrambling to find alternative solutions. Some leave older children home unattended, while others rely on live-in help. Others put together patchwork solutions, such as juggling schedules or hiring foreigners without asking questions.

But some families, even those who can find and afford spaces in day-care centers for their children, would rather avoid that option if they can. Some of them are afraid because of the highly publicized child molestation cases in recent years. Others are concerned about exposing their children to illnesses. Some parents just prefer to keep their children at home or in a homelike environment.

When their daughter, Ashley, was born three years ago, Andrea and her husband, Dale, a municipal services foreman, didn't want to leave their child with a stranger. But they couldn't get by on just one income, either. "Our house payments are $1,400 a month," Andrea says.

So the Irvine couple juggled. "I went back to work when Ashley was 8 months old," Andrea says. "I worked 5 hours a night (at a clerical job), and he worked full-time days. We didn't need a baby sitter, but we didn't see much of each other, either."

After nearly two years of parenting in shifts, Andrea says, "we realized we were having severe marital problems because we were separated so much. We had to have our nights together and become a family again. So we started shopping for a baby sitter."

At the same time, Andrea arranged to switch to a full-time day job. They started looking for a sitter in January, and Andrea's new job was to begin in March.

"We found someone who was highly recommended by our neighbors, and she just happened to have an opening. It was licensed, in-home care, six children, and two of them were her own. It cost $300 a month, including breakfast, lunch and snacks.

"The only real problem we had was when the baby sitter's mother-in-law died. My family lives out of town, and Dale's family all work, so we didn't have anyone else to keep Ashley. Fortunately, I was allowed to bring her to work with me for a couple of days. I brought a pillow and a blanket, and when it was nap time, she just crawled under the desk. I felt really uncomfortable about it, even though people at work were very pleasant, because it's just not appropriate to have your kid at work."

Six months later, Andrea says, "the bomb dropped. We knew she (the sitter) had sold her home and thought they were going to relocate here in Irvine. But that deal fell through, and suddenly they ended up moving to Long Beach.

"One morning I came to the house to drop off Ashley, and the baby sitter was crying and very upset. She told us the 29th of October was going to be her last day and we'd have to make other arrangements. I talked to her in a nice tone of voice and said I understood. I was freaking out, but I didn't want to let her know. By the time I got to work I was hyperventilating.

"My husband took time off work to investigate baby sitters. We weren't planning on putting her in preschool until she was 4, but we decided to go ahead and look into it. He checked out eight preschools in Irvine, and she's still on a couple of waiting lists. Finally we found a vacancy at a preschool in Tustin, which is on the way to where I work. But I still haven't calmed down. I haven't been able to breathe normally since that happened. One of my co-workers gave me a relaxation tape, and that helps some.

"I'll tell you, the panic when something like this happens! You try and do the best for your child, but you have to have two incomes in order to survive. And there's so much to worry about: child molestation, kidnappings. It's kind of scary. You hope for the best and go for it, but sometimes the best isn't feasible.

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