Power to the Early Childhood Profession Sometimes Requires Difficult Choices

Today, I prevented a family childcare provider from receiving her CDA credential. But, it wasn’t without careful deliberation and soul-searching, I will tell you.

My observation duties for the Council for Professional Recognition usually involve center-based programs, so when I got this assignment, I was excited to see how family childcare homes are faring these days.

I arrived at 9 AM, when Casey (name changed) said she would have a circle activity. As I stepped down into the room addition where the children were playing, I immediately became aware of how chilly it was, compared to the inside of the house. This day, the outside temperature was 19 degrees and this room couldn’t have been more than 45 degrees, at best. As I looked around, I determined that the only heat source was the open door that led into the kitchen. There was a non-functioning, old space heater that was plugged in, with a cord stretched across the room. There were three other outlets in the room, none of them covered.

It appeared that Casey, at some point, had tried to insulate this room with plastic sheeting. But now, most of it was hanging down from the door and window frames. The small percentage of insulation afforded by this strategy was lost and the thin, flimsy plastic film was well within the children’s reach.

I never removed my coat for the entire duration of the visit. At one point, a four-year-old boy asked if he could put his hands under the warm water in the bathroom to warm them up. When he was told, “No,” he asked to put on his coat. The other preschoolers also put on their coats, including a three-year-old girl whose teeth had been chattering since she arrived.

The plywood floors were covered with thin, tattered carpet that hadn’t been vacuumed for a long time… maybe never. The room had far too many toys lying about, so there was no clear pathway in any direction. There were no less than eight riding toys, all in some stage of disrepair. In the middle of the room was a ball pit, but all of the balls were everywhere but inside of it.

I stepped back up into the kitchen and noticed last night’s (or last week’s?) leftover food was still in pans on the stove. Both sinks were full of dark, cloudy water with dirty dishes submerged in them. Open boxes of crackers, chips, and cookies were on the counter, along with a half-gallon of milk.

Before snack was served in the playroom, Casey fished out a rag from the sink, squeezed it out, and used it to wipe the tables. She put her nine-month-old daughter in a pedestal high chair in the kitchen, right at the edge of the steps, so she could see her. As the child rocked back and forth, I could see it inching forward. I immediately jumped up to move it back. Several minutes later, I saw her stuff a whole cookie into her mouth and start to have some trouble. I intervened and did a mouth sweep. Casey did not notice either one of these incidents.

The house smoke detectors had been chirping their request for new batteries since I arrived and finally, I asked if we should be looking for a couple new nine volts. “Oh,” she said. “That’s been going on since last week. I’ve just tuned it out.”

I looked out into the yard. The ground was covered with a thick layer of dead leaves and was littered with broken tree limbs that had been blown down in a windstorm last spring. There was no play equipment or toys. This would not be an acceptable play space, by any stretch.

So, I had more than enough here to make a licensing call and probably have this home shut down. And then, Casey started to tell me about herself.

She was a single mom with two children, a son who was eight and her nine month-old daughter. She wasn’t receiving child support for either child. Casey was frustrated about her business, because the income was very sporadic. Not all of the children came regularly and now some of the families were coming up with excuses for not paying her on time. She said the worst offenders were members of her own family, who went for months without paying and then just left. She worried about paying the rent and utilities and paying for food. Casey realized she’d let the line between being a friend and a business owner become blurred and was suffering the consequences.

Then, three weeks ago, her baby daughter contracted a respiratory illness that worsened to the point of hospitalization in the ICU by a drug reaction. Casey was forced to close her childcare for two weeks, so she could be with her daughter.

Casey was clearly overwhelmed, distracted, and possibly suffering from depression. She said she was feeling hopeless and perhaps working in a childcare center would be better than doing this anymore.  I gave her a hug and told her that would probably be a smart decision.

We parted ways and I spent the next twenty minutes just sitting in my car. Casey obviously could not continue caring for other people’s children. Previous to my visit, she had a childcare mentor come out twice, offering suggestions and support, but there had been no follow through. I don’t believe she was capable of any follow through.

State licensing was requiring that she earn a CDA to continue as a family childcare provider. The scores I would upload today from my observations would prevent this from happening and essentially take away her livelihood. Sigh.

Not only would I need to upload my scores, I would have to call licensing. I shook my head and took a deep breath. ­But, by doing these things, maybe Casey would find other alternatives. She could find employment at a childcare center, have supervision and mentoring, a safe place for her daughter, less stress with a regular paycheck, and a chance to become a really good childcare provider.

Children need a safe and healthy childcare environment with an engaged and well-trained teacher. Our profession deserves teachers who are mentally and physically healthy and educated, so they can provide what children need.

To me, that is the essence of “Power to the Profession.”

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