Day Care Challenges
American family lifestyles have changed over the years. Just as for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, providing for the needs of the family in a changing society requires agility from professional child care providers. Both family and care provider must be in sync during any time of transition.
Organized group care of children in the United States is a fairly recent phenomenon, beginning as a response to World War II. When Rosie the Riveter began working in a factory building planes, her husband fought overseas. What happened to the child at home? The federal government provided funding for group child care, thus freeing women to support war-associated work. Group care of children had begun. After the War ended, it was expected that the men would return from overseas and go back to work while women and children would remain at home, just as in the past. However, a change in behavior had taken place and many of the women chose not to leave their jobs. Federally funded child care stopped, though group care of children did not. Most centers that remained were small, privately owned and unregulated.
Nursery schools and Montessori pre-schools ushered in the era of day care in the 1970s as women returned to work. During this time, some of the corporate child care chains began. Kinder-Care, Daybridge, Children's World, La Petite Academy and others invested in child care as an industry. At the same time, child care flourished in many formats: for-profit, cooperative, corporate, religious-based and private.
In today's society many mothers work as a normal course of events. Approximately 69% of married mothers with a child under 6 work outside the home compared to 30% in 1970. Today there are 20 million families with one or two working parents using child care, including 8 million families with children under the age of 5. Also, the growing divorce rate dictates that only one parent is on hand to care for children. If that parent also supports the family, assistance from group care turns into a necessity. This creates a growing challenge for center directors to meet the needs of a family in transition.
Day care directors are also in transition. Many began as women and men with young children of their own who wanted to start a small business by caring for other children as well. Some worked at a center outside their home and received free child care as an added benefit. The cost of living was escalating and working became a necessity. Eventually, as centers grew, the role of the director became more complex as well. Competition between centers meant that the directors of small centers needed to grow in areas that gave corporate chains their strength: legal knowledge, management, administration, technology and business acumen.
The larger chains today have professionals design marketing plans to communicate the center's expertise to parents. Those without professional experts still need to take advantage of every public relations technique available. Marketing a center and selling services to build enrollment are not natural skills for many directors. To be successful, centers must look successful. Outdoor playground equipment must be colorful and in good repair. The sign on the building appears in large letters. The director of the center dresses for success. Teachers hold educational classes for parents. Directors speak to the PTA and join the Chamber of Commerce.
Parents tour the center often. Family potluck dinners give the center a time to shine and give families a feeling of relationship. Business cards and printed stationery make it easy to locate a center's services. Advertising in yellow pages, flyers and over the air draws in new customers. Answering phones in a professional manner establishes a welcoming, friendly tone.