From now until June, the Children's Home Society is offering $25 a head for a rare and elusive breed: the child-care provider. But take heed: Many's the parent who has tried desperately to track down one of them, only to find nothing but frustration at the end of the trail.
And no wonder. According to a 1986-87 survey, the county had 44,389 licensed child-care slots. But 396,960 children ages 12 and younger were competing for those positions--about nine children for each opening--said Irene Dardashti, resource developer for the Children's Home Society.
Although some families use relatives or unlicensed child care to fill the gap, that imbalance still means many children, even some kindergartners, are left to fend for themselves while their parents work. A recent report by the Orange County Commission on the Status of Women found that the most common type of child neglect case reported to police or social services agencies in the county now involves children between 5 and 8 years old who are left home alone.
Orange County already has the second-greatest child population in the state, according to Supervisor Gaddi H. Vasquez. The county administration estimates that the number of children here will increase 17% over the next decade.
"The supply of child care has not kept pace with the accelerated demand," Vasquez said in a report issued in April.
That's where the $25 bounty comes in. The money is available to any licensed child-care provider who identifies another potential provider, Dardashti says. The money is payable after the application process is completed. This project is limited to family day-care homes only, which can be licensed for either six or 12 children.
"We'll walk them through the licensing process and offer training on how to get started and manage a business," Dardashti says. The agency can also help with referrals, information and links to subsidy programs that guarantee payment to providers who care for children from low-income families.
The project's goal is to create about 400 new slots by the end of June, 1989. A statistical analyst determined that 81% of them should be for school-age children, 11% for preschoolers and 8% for infants, she says.
Initially, project organizers are seeking providers in a strip of the county from Modjeska Canyon to Los Alamitos. Later, Dardashti says, it may be expanded to include the rest of the county.
Dardashti is also trying to spiff up child care's stereotyped image as a low-paying, low-status profession. Family day-care homes, she insists, can be lucrative businesses.
"The average payments per child are anywhere from $65 per week up to $125, depending on the age of the child and the location of the home," she says. "Multiply that by an average of six children, and that comes to an income in the $20,000 range. And then you can deduct a lot of your home expenses from that, so it reduces your taxable income.
"It's a very good income for those who want to have a home-based business," she says. "And if you're only providing extended day care for school-age children, you've still got most of the day free."
At the same time, Dardashti says, family day care generally costs less than center-based care. Infant care, for example, costs between $4,000 and $7,000 a year in day-care centers, compared to $3,600 to $6,700 in licensed family day-care homes.
Chris Brooks of Costa Mesa decided to go into the child-care business 6 years ago, when her son Adam, now 7, was a toddler.
"I was going to go back to work, and I looked around and couldn't find the kind of quality program I wanted him to be in," says Brooks, who has a bachelor's degree in early childhood education. "So I decided to go into business for myself."
A year later, the business was going so well that her husband, Gary, quit his job in retail management to work with her. Now the couple are licensed to care for 12 children between the ages of 12 and 36 months.
Two of those slots are occupied by their own children--4-month-old Troy and 2-year-old Karly. Adam, meanwhile, goes to a separate extended day program after school.
"We're not going to ever be rich," Chris Brooks says. "But at the end of the month or the year, it all works out. We live a comfortable life style."
The couple charges $88 per week per child. "We haven't had an opening in 2 years, and haven't advertised in 3 or 4 years," Gary Brooks says.
Gary Brooks says he was "burned out" in his old job before going into child care. "I just didn't like it. I didn't feel I was accomplishing anything in my life. And I really enjoyed my days off with the kids."
At first, he was a little embarrassed to let people know his profession. But now when someone asks, "I say, 'I work with children in my home. I'm a family day-care provider.' I'm very proud of that."
Both of the Brookses want to encourage others to go into the child-care business. "I think there are people out there like myself who could become more self-fulfilled if they did open their own business rather than finding a job with a preschool," Chris Brooks says.
Does that mean they're going to try to earn the bounty? "Well . . . maybe," Chris Brooks says. "I can think of a couple of people."
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