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Never too young to learn

February 23, 2002|By JENNIFER RALTON-SMITH, Staff Writer

Listen to Kimberly Phillips, mother of 12-month-old Joshua, talk for more than a few minutes about her experience looking for quality child care in the Imperial Valley and you get the distinct feeling it was about as much fun as prolonged labor.

Relocating last year from Alpine, Phillips and her husband, Alan, purchased a house in Imperial and the search for a care-giver for Joshua began.

"I called at least 25 daycare centers and I visited 12 of them, some more than once," Phillips said in her office at El Centro Medical Center.

As she spoke, Phillips had on her lap a thick file — 38 pages long — issued by the Imperial County Office of Education, Child Development Services, that lists all licensed child-care providers in Imperial County. She used the list to jump-start her search.

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"My heart's desire was to stay home and raise my son. I didn't want to go back to work but Alan and I crunched the numbers and realized that financially I had to work," Phillips said wistfully.

She went on to speak of her two-month search, telling about the places where she didn't even bother to stop the car.

"Some places looked so rundown on the outside that I just kept on driving … and other places were in total disarray on the inside; the children would be running wild."

Phillips said she was particularly looking for "structured" child care for Joshua, where he would be among children who were well-behaved and adhering to a organized routine consisting of regular play, eating and nap times. She did not want Joshua simply sat down in front of a TV.

Recognizing, in her own words, that "essentially a stranger would be raising my son four days a week, eight hours a day, Phillips found looking for quality daycare a daunting experience.

"I would walk out of some places just crying and thinking I was never going to find a place."

That's the dilemma many working mothers in California find themselves in — how to find good child care at a price that won't gouge a hole in an already frail budget.

In a press release issued by Gov. Gray Davis' office in early February to introduce the 2001 California Child Care Portfolio, the annual cost of child care in California for one child was expressed in terms of being "… $375 more than the statewide average fair market rent for a two-bedroom housing unit and double the annual tuition at UC Berkeley."

While costs for child care are generally lower in Imperial County than elsewhere in California, the availability of child care here is a problem, according to figures in the report.

Imperial County ranks 33rd among California's 58 counties in its supply of licensed child care slots. Licensed child care in the county meets only 26 percent of the estimated need for licensed care for children of all ages. There are 3.9 times more children ages newborn to 13 with working parents than licensed child care slots, according to the report.

The report's findings noted the "most growth in the supply of child care is in licensed family child-care homes, while growth in child-care centers is stagnating, continuing a trend since 1996."

Phillips didn't know it at the time, but what she was looking for was a curriculum-based family child-care provider. And she finally found it in Carla Miramon.

Miramon runs a licensed family child-care center in her home in El Centro and provides a structured learning environment for her young charges.

The children at Miramon's child care start the day reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and then move on to circle time where they are read to. The older children often go on field trips; the local library and the California Mid-Winter Fair & Fiesta are popular destinations. And they participate in the time-honored activities of finger-painting and making things for Mom and Dad.

The one thing you won't find at Miramon's child care is a TV blaring in the background.

Miramon, who has worked in the child-care field since the mid-1980s, has a degree in early childhood education and is an active member of the Imperial County Family Child Care Association. The distinction between a state-licensed family child-care provider and the person who proclaims herself to be in the child-care business is an important one.

A licensed family child-care provider will have attended orientation classes and be cardiopulmonary-resuscitation qualified. She — or he — will have been subject to a detailed home inspection by officials from state child-care licensing and had her — or his — home approved by the county fire marshal as a safe environment for children. A licensed provider has been fingerprinted and had a criminal background check run. All members of the household over age 18 will be subject to the same fingerprinting and background check procedures.

The person who simply hammers in a daycare sign on the front lawn has been subject to none of these safeguards.

There are 270 licensed family child-care providers in Imperial Valley, according to figures supplied by Imperial County Office of Education.

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