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Teaching Baby-Sitter Basics : A Canoga Park-based program teaches immigrants about caring for the American child.

April 16, 1993|BARBARA BRONSON GRAY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Barbara Bronson Gray writes regularly for The Times.

Lost in the brouhaha over federal appointees who have hired illegal immigrants is an important ques tion: Do child-care workers from out of the country need help in adjusting to American customs and culture?

Virginia Rafelson, executive director of the nonprofit, Canoga Park-based BASE--Basic Adult Spanish Education--thinks there is a big gap between what many immigrants know about life in the United States and what they need to understand to provide quality child care. She says many immigrant live-in child-care workers--especially those from Mexico and Central and South America--need to know more about how to care for a child effectively in this country.

Many are unsure of what methods of discipline are acceptable, she says, and they are unaware of many of the basic safety issues that have become well understood in American culture.

"In many Latino countries, spanking is OK," Rafelson says. "But we don't do that here. Many of these workers don't know how to feed a child, they don't know how to use our infant food, they don't know the dangers of leaving cleaning products in reach of children, or the risks of leaving a child alone in a room."

One live-in worker was shocked when she was fired for refusing to talk to a child for an entire day. That worker was angry with the child for doing something he was not supposed to be doing, and so she felt that silence was the most effective way of dealing with her feelings, Rafelson says.

As for discipline, she says parents tell their live-ins that they will not tolerate having their children hit or spanked as punishment. But they don't tell the workers how they should react when a child misbehaves.

"This is often a problem of communication. The worker may become indifferent, may become permissive, or may become angry and frustrated."

As the gap between what the worker knows and what the employer wants widens, the employees are most often fired and replaced.

"Many people keep changing workers," Rafelson says. "This is a problem for the child, who doesn't get used to anybody, and for the worker, who is replaced and must find other employment."

These issues should be confronted and the necessary information must be taught, Rafelson says. To do that, BASE offers a six-month, six-hour-a-week Saturday course designed for Spanish-speaking immigrants interested in taking care of young children in parents' homes. More than 230 students have participated in the program since it was started three years ago, Rafelson says.

Instructors teach a range of subjects, from strategies for effective discipline to electrical safety, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, personal hygiene and phone etiquette. Representatives from the police and fire departments come to class to explain safety basics and how to seek help in an emergency. The course includes some history, geography and math, and is designed to make the adjustment to American life more smooth, Rafelson says. The goal is to help the students adapt to the new culture and communicate effectively.

Newton Fletcher, owner of Family Care Agency/Community Job Shop in Reseda, says graduates of BASE's child-care classes tend to be more successful in their jobs than workers who lack the specific guidance and training.

"The students really benefit from these classes," says Fletcher, whose firm places 1,500 workers a year in permanent and temporary jobs.

Many of the problems that untrained workers encounter once they are placed in households, he says, are due to complete cultural shock and miscommunication--as many of the parent employees are adjusting to a new child or to the new situation of having help in the house, and the transition can be difficult. He says both groups, the employers and the employees, need all the help the can get.

Where to Go What: Six-month Saturday child-care course by Basic Adult Spanish Education (BASE). Location: 6918 Owensmouth Ave., Canoga Park. Price: $35 registration fee, plus $22 for textbooks. Call: (818) 348-4771.

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