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A Child's Home Away From Home : The Quest for Care Is Often Difficult


Like the mothers and fathers of many other 5-year-olds, Sarah Gilleskie's parents work. Jan Gilleskie, 33, an engineer for a high-tech research and development firm in Sorrento Mesa, and her husband, Robert, 45, an engineer for SDG&E, moved to Del Mar six years ago.

A year later Sarah was born.

When a neighbor across the street began offering day care in her home, it was an ideal match for the Gilleskie family.

For a year and a half, the arrangement worked well. When the neighbor decided to discontinue offering care in her home, though, the Gilleskies had to scramble.

"When they closed it, I burst into tears at the thought (of finding) another day care," said Jan Gilleskie. Eventually, they found a spot for Sarah at the Del Mar Montessori School, another in-home program.

Sarah will continue in the school until September, when she will enroll in kindergarten in the Del Mar Union School District and attend the district's before- and after-school care program.

Gilleskie says that, in each case, she and her husband have felt fortunate to have found quality day care for their daughter.

It is not always easy or simple to find good child care, though.

Working parents in North County face a widening gap between the number of children who require care outside of the home and the number of care-givers.

The North County Child Care Task Force, an independent monitoring group, estimates that there are currently 35,600 children in North County in need of day care with only 18,360 licensed spaces available. By the year 2000, the task force estimates that there will be 45,000 children in need of care, with no plans in place for a significant increase in facilities.

The increase in need is expected to result from the continuing trend toward two-career and one-parent families and general population growth.

So critical is the shortage of child care that last year the county hired a child care coordinator, Gerlinde Topzand, to improve the availability of services.

San Marcos, the only North County city to have a full-time child care coordinator, began its program in 1988 when it hired Marti Tucker, a former family day care provider.

Last month, Escondido voted to hire a part-time coordinator for child care. In November, Oceanside established a Child Care Task Force, whose 17 members represent city government, the school district, nonprofit and for-profit child care, and the community.

In addition to availability, the affordability of child care is a pressing issue for many families.

Prices for care vary depending on the age of the child, the specifics of the program and the location. For instance, some programs provide transportation, lunch and field trips while others are simple drop-off sites. Care for younger children is more expensive than for older children; some programs offer a discount for a second sibling. In general, care in coastal areas of North County costs more than in inland areas.

Some programs charge by the week or the month, some by the hour. Full-time care in San Diego County for a preschool child typically ranges from $50 to $130 a week; for infants the range is $50 to $150. Before and after school care for first-graders and up typically ranges from $1.50 to $3 an hour.

Depending on the income of the family and programs used, the cost of child care can amount to 10% to 25% of a family's earnings.

In Escondido, efforts are under way to offer financial relief for parents hardest hit by child care costs.

The Escondido Child Care Advocacy Council is trying to establish a program where low-income families would qualify for child care subsidies.

The council, composed of child care providers, school district employees and nonprofit organization representatives, recently received $49,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds to begin the program.

An additional $51,000 in city funding is being sought for the program, which is scheduled to begin in January, 1992. The City Council is expected to vote on additional funding in September, according to Jerry VanLeeuwen, director of community services for Escondido.

Several groups are working to better define child care needs of working parents in North County.

A survey of commuting parents has recently been completed in Escondido, according to Fred Mrak, executive director of North San Diego County Transportation Management Assn. The goal is to coordinate van pools and ride-sharing for people who need to drop off their children at child care sites before going to work.

"If you give people an alternative that will fit their lifestyle, they will take advantage of it," Mrak said.

Mrak and his staff will correlate the survey this month, and give information to employers.

The Oceanside branch of the League of Women Voters recently completed an extensive survey of child care needs in the city of Oceanside. The program will be used as a model to determine child care needs throughout North County, county child care coordinator Topzand said.

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