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A Day in the Life of a Child Care Worker

Child care workers live with the reality that there is no perfect substitute for a family in raising a child; but while parents are at work, away, or otherwise unavailable, responsibility for the care and supervision of their children is a serious concern, and there are great possibilities for personal fulfillment in any career of service to young people. “Rewarding” is how most child care workers describe their jobs, and the joy of helping children grow—both intellectually and emotionally—is one of its most appealing features. A number of child care workers are hired by government agencies and large corporations to run in-house day care centers. These centers allow parents to work and still remain close to their children, a valuable benefit for little or no charge. Firms are increasingly recognizing that having an on-site day care center provides them with significant advantages, notably reduced absenteeism, higher productivity, and better morale among workers, for relatively few dollars. Other child care workers are employed by individual families; responsibilities in these positions may be more comprehensive, from live-in, 24-hour assistance to cooking duties. Arrangements are made individually between parents and the child care provider. Recent events have brought the widespread lack of Social Security payments for child care workers to national attention. Employers are responsible for these payments by law; many employers do not realize this until it is brought to their attention. A child care worker manages a child’s day, most often attending to the child from early morning through early afternoon, keeping the child engaged with games, exercise, meals, and study. “If you’re not organized, you’re going to have lots of problems,” said one 10-year child care worker. But professionals must be flexible within a framework. With young children, “anything can happen and anything will,” wrote another. Children need to trust and feel at home with the people around them, and the successful caregiver deals with situations as they arise, from health care emergencies to calming a very active child. The ability to provide a solid framework of activity, a flexible outlook, and a sense of caring, fun, and energy, are all important facets of being a good child care worker.

Paying Your Dues

Perhaps the most important characteristic of the child care worker is a delicate balance of maturity and wonder. Child care providers work long hours under trying circumstances with children who are grasping to understand the world. A professional must be mature enough to act responsibly with and around the child but be sufficiently filled with wonder to share in the child’s excitement about learning. No specific educational requirements exist for the profession, but since child care workers are responsibile for the care of children, courses in basic first aid, childhood development, early childhood education, and nutrition are helpful. The better day care centers require bachelor’s or master’s degrees in early childhood education. Extensive personal screening is routine in this field, particularly for candidates who work through an agency. Recommendations are more important in this field than in just about any other, and so the worker with excellent references will have a great advantage. One of the most difficult aspects of being a child care worker is maintaining seemingly infinite patience in handling young and excitable children. Another great challenge is the lack of adult human contact. Most people who are dissatisfied with the profession claim it is 394 | Guide to Your Career due not to lack of enjoyment of teaching and nurturing children, but rather to the desire for peer contact and communication. Wages increase inconsistently for both the day care center worker and the family nanny alike, and without assuming further responsibilities, there is not much of a metaphorical ladder to climb.

Present and Future

During the Middle Ages, branches of the Catholic Church managed orphanages and “public houses” for abandoned children. Royal and wealthy families always employed a staff of specialists who were responsible for raising and educating the children, with each staff member holding a discrete responsibility, such as nurse, tutor, or physical fitness instructor. When both parents work, now, it is common to hire part-time nannies or send children to day care centers. Child care positions are expected to become increasingly available with rapid job growth over the next few years. Many jobs will become available through religious, private, and community- based organizations that recognize the need for more child care options and the value of economies of scale in this profession (i.e., it doesn’t cost that much more to have one person look after three children instead of two). Private companies will also contribute significantly to this job growth, which should take place relatively evenly across the United States.

Quality of Life

PRESENT AND FUTURE

years is a relatively long period for child care workers to be employed at a single location. Many people work part-time to supplement another, less remunerative occupation. Those childcare workers who excel at their jobs are likely to receive raises and supervisional responsibilities within two years. Family child care workers can expect salaries to rise and duties to change, based on the growth and needs of the child. Turnover is significant during these years—around 20 percent of part-time child care workers leave the profession within the first two years.

FIVE YEARS OUT

Five-year veterans generally fall into two categories: people who are running day care centers and child care programs and people who work as individual practitioners for families. At this point, the former have supervisory, staffing, and budget responsibilities. The latter have significant relationships with families—especially those workers with live-in positions; a long-term child care worker has likely bonded with the child and has become a very important person in that child’s life. Many caregivers are forced to shift from one family to another when the children begin attending school. Many caregivers find it difficult to sever their ties, as the relationships can become intense.

TEN YEARS OUT

Child care workers who have lasted 10 years in the profession gain strong satisfaction from their choice of occupation. Nearly all of them have worked a number of jobs and have good reputations and strong opportunities for employment. Many 10-year day care center veterans open their own day care centers, but they may find that while they gain greater control over their work environment, they end up spending more time running the business than actually caring for children.