by Mary M. from Womankind (1973).The struggle to establish decent affordable childcare is outlined in this article by a feminist mother.
by Mary M. from Womankind-Sept 1973
(Editors Note: Daycare was an important issue for the CWLU as this first person account explains.)
Working full-time, it is very difficult to provide adequate care for my children, aged 3 and 5, especially for my five-year-old, who is in kindergarten for half a day.
Both my children have been in daycare centers and I am pleased with their experiences. As a teacher in a daycare center and a visitor of several centers around the city during the past months, I know these are some of the happiest places I've been, with children and staff sharing and learning from each other.
In this article, I want to discuss my experiences with childcare and look at how society is dealing with the need for it.
The position of women in our society has much to do with the low priority given to childcare needs, for we are told that a woman’s first responsibility is to stay home and raise the children.
However, when a political or economic situation demands it, such as during World War II when society needed women to work, we are told to get a job, and that society will provide childcare.
Today, the economic reality of many women's lives is that we must work at a paying job as well as raising our children. We are put in a double bind - we are told that our place is in the home taking care of the children, and yet many of us must work.
The lack of adequate childcare forces us to make any kind of arrangement we can, regardless of the quality. It also makes us feel guilty about working, even though we must. If we are visible and vocal in our demands for childcare, we are seen as failures because we are not supposed to need childcare in the first place.
We must ignore what society says about childcare and begin to define our needs in terms of our own and our children's best interests.
Politicians continue to write off the need for childcare by claiming it is primarily needed by those on welfare and by minority groups. It is true that the majority of people who use existing subsidized daycare facilities earn low incomes and would be forced on welfare without it. But many more people also want and need day-care. All of us must demand that our tax dollars go for the care of our children.
When Nixon took office, he talked about his commitment to the needs of children. As usual, his actions have been different than his words. He vetoed the Comprehensive Child Development Act of 1971 that would have set up childcare facilities offering education, nutrition and health programs for two and one-half year-old to school age children, the services would have been available on a sliding scale, depending on the income of the family.
Nixon has stopped funding for some daycare centers in the federal budget for 1974, and has changed eligibility standards to make it virtually impossible for working families with an income between $6,000 and $8,000 a year to afford daycare.
In Chicago, according to the 1970 census, there are 112,940 children under six years of age whose mothers work. However, there are only 26,000 children in licensed daycare centers and daycare homes, and there are no more spaces available.
Working mothers must make their own provisions, however inadequate, for their children. When the inadequacy of some arrangements becomes well-known - for example, the fire several months ago in an apartment where the children were left alone - the working mother is quickly blamed for being irresponsible local and national governments are really to blame, for they refuse to deal with our childcare needs.
CHICAGO LACKS COMMITMENT TO DAYCARE
Chicago does not give one penny for childcare, but it certainly harasses daycare centers. In the spring of 1972, when licenses were up for renewal, the city decided that daycare centers must have their own electrical units, units which can cost thousands of dollars. When the Daycare Crisis Council of the Chicago Area protested, the city agreed to waive the requirement for 1972. This April, the city sent out a notice that the units must be installed. Though most centers cannot afford it, their feeling is that they will continue to operate because they are committed to serve the parents and children.
Given the lack of federal funds and the scarcity of daycare facilities, it is likely that an increased number of private centers will open. However, from my experience, parents can have no control over what happens in a private center. Since we are paying for the childcare, we should have a right to have control over the quality of the care. But quality care costs a lot of money and we know that quality care and high profits are incompatible. It is advisable to spend time at a center with your child before deciding whether to use a private center. If you observe any practices you think are not in the best interests of the children, report it to the director and other parents.
Though I am not guaranteeing success, here is a list of some of the places you might try if you are looking for daycare. If you can make informal arrangements to meet your needs, you will not have to deal with the limited supply of daycare available.
CHILDREN UNDER THREE: LICENSED DAYCARE HOME
The Department of Children and Family Services (341-8400) licenses daycare homes and has a complete listing of licensed homes in Chicago and the suburbs. Licensed daycare homes are private homes which are licensed by the state as meeting certain standards and in which children are taken care of for pay. It would be a good idea for you to visit the daycare home and talk with the daycare mother before placing your child. Since the daycare home has built-in small groups and consistently present adults factors which foster the positive development of young children, it could fully meet the needs of a child over or under three.
A COOPERATIVE DAY CARE CENTER, OR START YOUR OWN CENTER
A cooperative daycare center is one that is planned and controlled by parents. It typically serves no more than 10 to 15 children in a program, and is staffed by the parents on a rotating basis. It does not preclude having a paid staff person who may or may not be a parent. My experience is that it proves to be successful at meeting the needs of adults and children using the center.
Starting your own center is not as awesome as it sounds, it is possible to create a good one on a small budget, but the size of the budget depends on whether or not you will hire staff and pay rent. One of the advantages of this kind of program is that the hours and ages of children can be as flexible as the needs of the people using it require. It is advisable to first assess the needs of your group and then decide what needs the center can realistically meet. You can use a parent's, home, apartment or basement, but if possible, it is best to have a separate space.
As far as staffing, each person should work a substantial period of time in a row, such as a morning or an afternoon rather than a couple of hours, It is good to have one person who can work full time responsible for program planning, and to provide continuity and reassurance for the children as other adults come and go.
It would be ideal if this person had a practical and theoretical background in early child development, but if he/she does not, consultations with others who have experience will help, Forming a study group to discuss what is happening can also help the program come up with creative suggestions and solve its problems.
The number of children has to be limited to eight if you are interested in obtaining a license, which is issued by. The Department of Children and Family Services. A license would involve a visit by a social worker and inspections by the city’s building, health, and fire departments.
Jobs that need to be done to keep the center running are clean-up, keeping books and paying bills, providing transportation to and from the center, providing food for the children, ordering supplies and equipment, and scheduling staff. Parents who cannot staff the center because of other commitments could take on these tasks.
FUNDED DAYCARE CENTERS
Though there are only a limited number, funded daycare centers serve children aged three to five. They are either free charge a minimal fee, or charge on a sliding scale depending on the family’s income. Some are excellent, depending on the quality of the director and staff, and most encourage parent involvement and try to meet the needs of the community they serve. For information on where these are located, call the Chicago Area Daycare Crisis Council .
A book called Daycare by E. Belle Evans, Beth Shub, and Marlene Weinstein (published by Beacon Press and selling for $2.95) offers information on what might constitute a quality daycare program in our society.