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Home-care program helps meet growing childcare needs

STANFORD -- Like many new parents, Cheryll Hawthorne- Searight, assistant dean of student affairs in the Stanford School of Engineering, had problems with the childcare center attended by her infant daughter.

"There wasn't the personal care that I expected," Hawthorne- Searight said. "There were a lot of colds going around, and the scheduling was very inflexible -- if I wanted to drop Darryll off a little early, to get to work by 8 a.m., I had to pay extra. If I got back at 5:15 or 5:20 -- breaking all the speed limits -- they gave me dirty looks."

The solution, it turned out, was not in a regular childcare center at all, but in the campus apartment of a Pakistani graduate-student family. "I'm really happy with the situation now," Hawthorne-Searight said. "I like the flexibility and the convenience, and the type of love that my daughter gets is immeasurable."

Hawthorne-Searight's daughter is one of 100 children now being cared for through the Stanford Family Daycare Home Program, a model network of 50 licensed caregivers living in the Escondido Village student housing complex.

The caregivers, mostly graduate-student spouses, usually are parents themselves who take in one to three extra children from Stanford and local communities to supplement their incomes.

Stanford's Office of Child and Family Services, in turn, maintains close contact with the homes through visitations and phone calls, training sessions, and periodic newsletters.

Caregivers even have the use of a communal toy bank, lending library and stroller exchange.

Parents who need a daycare home can simply go to the Office of Child and Family Services and receive a list of Village caregivers who have been interviewed by office assistant Kathy Dicker.

Dicker also inspects the homes to make sure that stairs are gated, electrical outlets covered, and hazardous materials out of reach. Homes must be kept clean and orderly, with age-appropriate toys, emergency food and water, and separate beds for each child.

Parents may then visit the homes themselves to interview the caregivers (usually there are about 15 vacancies) and determine which is the best fit for their child.

Caregivers set their own fees, ranging from about $3 to $5 per hour. The arrangement usually is sealed with a written contract provided by Child and Family Services.

"People are very pleased with the system -- we get calls from other campuses all over the country, asking how it works," said Kathleen Ritchie, director of the Office of Child and Family Services.

"Parents like it because of the homelike atmosphere, and because the hours are more flexible than center-based care. It also generally costs less" -- an average of $4 an hour for infant care, compared with $5 per hour at the centers.

By providing immediate care at a more reasonable price, Stanford's Family Daycare Home Program fills an important gap in Stanford's multifaceted childcare system.

Other on-campus childcare programs include the Stanford Arboretum Children's Center, serving the needs of families with flexible schedules; the cooperative Children's Center of the Stanford Community, two nursery schools, and a variety of after-school programs. Together they serve more than 900 children.



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