The High Cost of Care

Clockwise from left: Justin Baker, Carlos Dominguez, Robert

The debate over whether mothers should stay home with their
children or go back to work is so well-known it has inspired books
like the

Mommy Wars

and has been the key issue on several talk shows.
The debate over whether mothers should stay home with their children or go back to work is so well-known it has inspired books like the “Mommy Wars” and has been the key issue on several talk shows.

But in the South Valley some parents are making their decisions based on money.

Thirteen years ago, Gilroy resident Donna Silva put her children in child care so she could drive to Fremont to work full-time.

Silva enjoyed her job until it got to the point where after she paid for child care, her transportation and lunch each day, she had $40 to her name at the end of the week.

After growing tired of her commute and lack of funds, Silva weighed her options and chose to stay home with her kids. While she thought it was the right choice at the time, Silva, who now runs a preschool out of her home, said if she could do it all over, she would have continued to work.

“There are benefits to having your kids in child care,” she said. “It’s important for the learning and social atmosphere. I see parents every morning when they leave their kids here, and I know it’s a struggle, but when their kids are at home, they want to go to school and see the other kids and interact.”

While Silva believes child care is important, she also agrees that it’s unaffordable.

The average cost for child care nationwide for one 4-year-old child is between $4,000 and $6,000 a year, according to the Children’s Defense Fund, a national nonprofit organization. The average in urban areas and more expensive living areas like California is sometimes higher than the annual tuition at some public colleges.

Kristi Matthews of Hollister always knew she wanted to stay home while her two children were young, and she and her husband moved to the area as part of a way to afford it.

“We probably wouldn’t be able to do this if we were still in the Bay Area,” she said.

Matthews, who was working in event planning and sales for hotels in San Jose, said the combination of spending time with her kids and the high cost of child care validates her reasons for wanting to stay home.

“When my daughter was born, I was still trying to work full time from home and watch her at the same time,” Matthews said. “I was just so stressed out. Everything suffered. Everything was 50 percent, and then I realized I needed to be focusing on my kids.”

Matthews and her husband looked over their finances, cut some corners and worked things out where she could work part time and their daughter could attend preschool for half the day to enjoy playing with other kids.

The high cost of child care is difficult for parents no matter what age their children are, and Silva said many run into waiting lists when they’re looking for a place for their infant.

“It’s difficult because you can only care for so many,” she said.

And when it comes to looking for the right caregiver to watch over their child, Silva said parents frequently go by word of mouth recommendations. But she believes parents should take the time to sit down with a provider and watch them interact with their child in order to see if the two are a fit.

While a certain daycare center or home provider may come highly recommended, California has no licensure or certification requirement for Child Care Aides, according to the California Employment Development Department. Those who want to work as day care teachers can receive a Children’s Center Instructional Permit, issued by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, after they complete 24 hours of early childhood education courses and 16 credits toward a bachelor’s degree. Emergency instructional permits can be granted to aides who have completed 12 hours of early childhood education courses, and have a minimum of two years children’s center experience, when critical teacher shortages occur. Some employers do require workers to take a first aid course or earn a cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) certificate, and many will finance the cost of the course.

And while the price of care may seem high, asking providers to cut their rates is difficult because the average income for a caregiver is between $7 and $10 an hour.

Carla Ames, who has owned KinderWorld Child Care Center in Morgan Hill for the past seven years, said while some care centers have high rates because of overhead costs, others just have high rates.

“We try to keep our rates low because we realize how crazy it is to keep your children in care,” she said. “Parents should look for a quality program that fits within their budget.”

Ames, like Silva, believes the academic programs found in many day cares and preschools are benefical and worth the money because they prepare children for kindergarten.

“If the center is providing the child with skills that will help them prepare for school, then it’s a benefit for them to be there,” she said.

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