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How to Beat the High (Emotional) Cost of Childcare


Works and plays well with others. If you can reach the brassy latch at the top of the door, the party awaits. Even if you are not an average-sized adult, can't extend your arm its full length to click and unlock the child-safety latch top-right of the door, and you have to wait until some merciful, tall bouncer (mommy, daddy, nanny, teacher) comes along and ushers you inside the care center - still, the party awaits. Eight tow-headed people and one brunette, none more than 2 feet tall, twist in their lunchtime seats to see every newcomer, to eat them up with their eyes, while four child-development-certified caregivers and two moms pat the corners of mouths and Wet-Wipe hands. Then they are corralled into circle time beneath Miss Karen Juilianna, who, in a sing-songy Long Island accent, leads them through a politically correct version of something to the tune of "One Little, Two Little, Three Little Indians" that doesn't mention ethnicities or mislabeled country origins at all. A shaggy-haired toddler, grinning and swinging his head in ecstacy like that modern- day Bacchus Kevin Bacon in his "Let's dance!" Footloose days, rolls onto his little back, his bitty black sandals offered up to the 20-foot-ceiling, and scissor-kicks in the air, locking joyous eyes with a reporter's and, unmistakably, dedicating his mid-'80s aerobic moves to her. The singing stops. The circle devolves into mad caper. There is no music, but if there were, it would be a Muppets Jug Band score, with chicken and cow noises and a xylophone. Toddlers take up positions behind miniature doll strollers and race them around the room like they're on a tax-free shopping spree; then faster, more chaotic, like River Walk tourists nipping at your heels with Bumbleride-Queen- B strollers. Standing in her pink tennis dress, watching the parade from a quiet spot by the Little Tikes stovetop, 16-monthold Maddy has lost a shoe. This is the 10-hour baby bash (8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.), happening on the premises of Guerra Deberry Coody's downtown marketing firm. The children, all under the age of 4, belong to various GDC staff, who are on hand to breast-feed, potty-train, or run 'round the roof-deck playground between adult demands (teleconferences and ad approvals? Bleh.). GDC's 2,400-square-foot child-care center is the only carpeted room in the renovated former Savoy hotel. (And even if the carpet didn't muffle some of the baby shrieks and tears, said Michele Autenrieth Brown, GDC director of broadcasting, as she visited with her 21-month-old, Macey, women hammering their high heels into the hardwood floors are still more distracting.) The rest of the three-story building is devoted to some 50 people (nine of whom are men) who work on GDC accounts to promote the Austin Film Festival, Procter & Gamble, and Pace Foods. Let's ignore for a moment that they were the firm hired in both 2000 and 2004 to help lure the Hispanic vote down President George W. Bush's way (let's also ignore an equally unsettling item of note - what comedian John Leguizamo said at a 2004 Democratic-party fundraiser: "Latins for Republicans - it's like roaches for Raid.") and just take GDC's client list to mean that the 11-year-old firm is skillful and sought-after; 95 percent of their clientele are based outside Texas. Also of note: This year, the firm was a finalist in the San Antonio Business Journal's best places to work in town. The largely Generation-X staff (read: birthing years) say the on-site child-care convenience - largely underwritten by the firm for seven years - makes for happy parents (GDC shaves more than $150,000 from its $30 million in annual billings, and charges parents just $400 a month for its daycare). It's a recruiting tool, say partners and Trinity graduates Frank Guerra, Trish Deberry- Mejia, and Tess Coody. But because they're not licensed as a commercial daycare center nor exempt from said regulations, and because of recent attention from the state's childcare licensing arm, which is threatening to shut down the center, the firm has done two things: (1) kicked off a statewide campaign last month to get the upcoming legislature to craft a separate category for small businesses who want on-site child care for employees, but don't want to be labeled a commercial care provider, and (2) decided to keep the party raging upstairs. So they applied for a commercial care license anyway.


 NPR, AUG. 8, 2006

For the average middle-class family, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says it will cost $184,000 to raise a child from birth to the age of 17. Last week on NPR, commentator Michelle Singletary admitted the figures are all over the place, from rural to urban centers, but in the first year of your baby's life, you can expect to pay, on average, $7,300. (Where does that money go? Don't they have a free-food fountain at their immediate or sterilized-bottled disposal?) "The largest baby expense is daycare," Singletary answered. Since parental leave is only slightly longer than the summer romance in Grease - a whopping 12 weeks of unpaid leave vouchsafed by the U.S. Department of Labor - you most likely will put your newborn in a facility. For the privilege, Singletary says, Americans can expect to pay $280 a week (roughly the same amount as 15 undergraduate hours at the University of the Incarnate Word. Too bad daycare tuition is not the kind of big-ticket item you can get at a baby shower). Then there's the matter of a dearth of quality centers. U.S. Vital Statistics says Bexar County has seen a slight increase in its annual stork deliveries, with 25,600 babies born in 2005. Match that up with the number of child-care providers: Around 1,000 licensed and registered places, from commercial centers to those operated out of private homes, offer child supervision countywide. It's the same shortage all over the country. And parenting handbooks will tell you that if you've left your search until the last minute - say, the end of your second trimester of pregnancy, when you have enough of a bulge that people are bringing their hands toward your belly like vaqueros warming by the fire - then you will have to break the law and leave your child unattended, preferably with the TV on and an ample supply of cold cereal. (That's what Jacob Calero and Michelle De La Vega of San Ramon, California, did this year when they left their two children, one an autistic 5-yearold, home alone while the couple took a New Year's Eve trip to Las Vegas. The Associated Press noted that the couple was able to find a dog sitter for their puppies.) The market of child-care tip-givers is such a silt-clogged waterway that even the Dummies reference-book series has devoted a volume to the subject. And they all seem to suggest that choosing a provider is a process you should approach with Hemingway's "animal instinct of impending doom" (to borrow George Packer's phrase). Author Ann Douglas suggests in The Biggest Mistakes Parents Make When Choosing Childcare that as soon as the EPT reads positive, you should make two calls: one to your mother, then another to a daycare provider, to put the unnamed, sexless, fertilized egg on a waiting list. Otherwise, they won't get into any place worth a damn. Douglas said that.



Children under careless or dubious supervision are not just the stuff of Grimm's fairy tales and guidebook pitches. Just last month, authorities in Cookeville, Tennessee, raided Little Learners Daycare and found little dreamers on the floor, napping, while fumes from the licensed operators' meth-brew - ephedrine, propane tanks, iodine, drain cleaner, and meth oil - wafted into their hairless nostrils. That's precisely why operators are monitored by Child Care Licensing, a division of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. Registered childcare providers can expect unannounced visits at least once a year from people like Cathryn Newhouse, a cinnamon-haired Canadian three years from retirement, who wears a smiley-face button on her nametag reading, "Attitude is everything." CCL looks into personnel files, staff-member-to-childratios, field-trip procedures (during the summer, there's a big push to make sure people don't leave kids in cars), and other health and safety minutiae that might be overlooked - making sure, for instance, that no one has left anything a child could suffocate on, like that friendly-looking, unused, cottony diaper. Newhouse's office also investigates complaints. "Sometimes people complain about whether a kid's hair is combed when they come pick them up." (Yeah, parents can be picky.) But she also tries to give kudos: When a dingy center repainted, she put that in its report. Newhouse met with the Current at Good Samaritan's Westside facility for a

Tess Coody (center) looks in on her son Kieran, 4, during snack time in the firm's onsite childcare facility.

mock inspection. (Mock, because the Current is not a door-kicking Geraldo Rivera; there are privacy issues involving children, and the childcare center is a model facility willing to open its doors to the curious, Newhouse said.) The multi-use building on Saltillo offers lowincome community services from the cradle (the 150-capacity licensed commercial daycare) to the grave (a senior center). On this morning, the center's room for 12- to 24-month-olds was chilly (recent studies on SIDS say it's safer to keep them cold than hot). It was 8 a.m., and Barbara Martinez Cruz was dropping off her 18-month-old granddaughter Victoria because the child's teenage mother was ill. Cruz works at Avance, a parenting-skills program for low income families on Commerce Street, and could only pull Victoria away from her neck with the promise of papas. "I used to bring my daughter to my work. They have a daycare on the first floor, and I work on the third floor. It was exciting. You're going to the same place together," Cruz said. "But the cost `for underwriting onsite employee childcare` was too high. They got rid of that in May. " Some parents work at Good Samaritan, many through the Get-2-Work program for teens. Policy states that parents can't work in the same room as their child. And on Splash Day, if they weren't on their break, cafeteria workers might only watch the wade-pool activities from the window. With childcare subsidies and thirdparty reimbursement through United Way and the Episcopalian Church, Good Samaritan's infant care runs around $440 a month, about $40 more than GDC charges its parents. What does Good Samaritan director Tammy Morales think about businesses who are not singly devoted to child care offering an on-site service? "It's a more chaotic situation, having kids around a workspace," she said. "If you do childcare, you need to make a commitment to that." Delfino Samano, a 52-year-old who was dropping off the granddaughter he and his wife have custody of, paused outside Good Samaritan to consider a similar question. An anguished Jesus made of burlap sack and paint looked down on Samano and the drowsy 3-year-old resting her head on his shoulder. "I work maintenance for the San Antonio Housing Authority. And my wife works for a probation office. So I don't think with the kind of people she deals with, she would want her at work either."



Tess Coody, 35, looks like Keri Russell, the star of that old show Felicity. She hears this all the time. When her hair was longer, people would ask if she was the marketing firm's intern. When the COO and partner was pregnant with Brendan in 1999, she led the charge to get care providers on-site (including the personal caregiver she uses at home). Employees donate equipment (there are still rotating milk-buying days) and the company invested $10,000 that first year. Call it a co-op, but don't call it a new concept. The nation's first co-op nursery school was started in 1916, by 12 faculty wives at the University of Chicago, who pooled their resources and volunteered to oversee a childcare program while the women moonlighted with war work. During World War II, Roosevelt's Federal Works Administration created a childcare program, featuring nurseries that were poorly supervised and inconveniently located for mothers who once again went to work in war industries. As Alice Kessler-Harris writes in her book Out to Work, "So inadequate were `the nurseries` that rumors circulated about executives in war industries who wanted to set up their own child-care centers." Since then, women have secured a more permanent place in the workforce (Hey, Betty Friedan, ladies now make up more than half the labor force!). Which brings us to the most obvious point about childcare: It exists because women work. The U.S. Census Bureau said of the 14.6 million women with children under the age of 6 in 2004, more than 55 percent were working. "I'm not bashing daycares," says GDC's Coody of a mother's modern-day conundrum. "Some of our parents still choose to use them ... But how is it better to go somewhere 20 minutes away? As parents, where does our right to direct and manage the care of our children begin, and the state management of it begin? We've worked for lots of clients who really believe in compassionate-conservative, family values. If we're going to say in the state of Texas family is the bedrock of society ... `then` live that." So far, "living that" has meant giving GDC's childcare the marketing treatment - media outreach to all the local news outlets, creating a website (, getting endorsements from Councilman Kevin Wolff and state representatives Joe Straus and Mike Villarreal, and volunteering hours of work - valued at $350,000 so far - to get the state legislature to consider a "take your child to work" category for childcare next year. Living that also means business-as-usual, such as holding a graduation ceremony this month for the 4- year-olds who will soon be starting preschool (Miss Karen, who's worked at the GDC care center for a year, said, "The separation anxiety is usually on the side of the parents. The kids are more stable"). GDC also has to get the fire marshal to approve their third-floor nursery, add an emergency exit to the playground, and get the OK from the Metropolitan Health District before CCL's August 23 deadline. If they don't, would law enforcement bust up GDC's party room and lead the kids away, as the tykes hold hands like a paper cutout? "If they're not in complete compliance with what we need by August 23, they would not be allowed to have children in their center. We could potentially seek a legal injunction for them to stop," Child Protective Services' Mary Walker explained, giving a worst-case-scenario. "But it's all been quite amicable. They are professional, law-abiding folks, and this is mandated. I don't think there would be any need to send sheriffs out there." Indeed - we all know the best parties are the ones where the cops don't show up. Post-script: After the Current's production deadline, the state gave Guerra, Deberry, Coody a temporary permit to operate its daycare.

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