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Turnover rate in child-care businesses at 43 percent

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by Maria G. Hoover

SBJ Staff

According to Dr. Mary Beth Mann, an assistant professor of child development at Southwest Missouri State University, it isn't easy to make money taking care of other people's children.

Statistics show there's a turnover rate of 43 percent in the field of child care, she said, and money has a lot to do with that.

Mann said a 1998 publication from the Children's Defense Fund shows that the average child care worker earns $6.12 an hour, a figure both she and Dr. Peggy Pearl, professor of child development at SMSU, find discouraging.

"I know I've seen on signs at Hardees and McDonald's, etc., advertising jobs for $7.20 or even $8 an hour. I've looked in the newspaper and seen custodial jobs for $10 an hour. It's very interesting valuing, I think. If custodians didn't do their jobs, the rest of us couldn't do ours, and I'm not saying they shouldn't get that much. I'm saying that in terms of taking care of the next generation, providing child care is important, too very important," Pearl said.

She added that there are a lot of factors that make child care a tough career, such as long hours and isolation from other adults. And private home child-care providers, in particular, often get taken advantage of by parents, she said.

"Parents tend to forget that providing child care in a private home setting is a job and a business that pays the car payment and the rent or mortgage for the provider. Often, it is not treated like a business arrangement," Pearl said.

Mann added that because private home child care is a small business, child-care providers have to perform business functions, such as paying taxes, as well as child care. "If they can't do it, then they have to pay someone else to take care of it," Mann said.

She said private home child-care providers also have to provide their own health insurance, and because it is expensive, many providers go without.

Given the challenges, it might seem impossible for private child-care providers to make money. But those with experience do have methods that help them to do just that.

Kelly Barnts has been a licensed home child-care provider for six years. She is the president of the Licensed Home Child Care Providers Association and is licensed to care for six children at a time in her home just outside Springfield.

Barnts cares for infants to 6-year-olds. She charges a weekly fee of $75 dollars, and provides care 7 a.m-5 p.m. Barnts said she requires parents to pay for the entire week, even if they miss a day.

"If I didn't do that, I would never know how much income I'd have coming in. It's hard to figure a budget if you don't know how much you'll make in a week," she said.

Barnts said most people in child care don't budget on a weekly basis. "I look at each month as to what I have in expenses for day care and what I have to make to break even yearly," she said.

Pearl said one advantage private home providers have over child-care centers is that there's no separate overhead for rent and utilities. Barnts agreed, but she said her costs for utilities and home maintenance are higher because she cares for children there.

"Child-care workers don't make a lot of money. A lot of people have that impression, when they look at the number of kids in a child-care setting and multiply that by the weekly fee. They don't realize most of the money goes back into what it takes to take care of the children," she said.

Christina Collins, of Nixa, has been a licensed home child-care provider since 1991. She is licensed to care for 10 children and two relatives in her preschool. Collins cares for infants to 12-year-olds, but focuses primarily on 2- to 5-year-olds.

Collins' hours are 7 a.m.-5:30 p.m. She charges between $65 and $85 per week.

Collins is also a member of the Licensed Home Child Care Providers Association, and she also gives seminars for people getting started in child care.

"I always tell people who are getting started in the business not to look at the bottom line, but to do it because they love it. I tell them, 'You do have to spend money, but be careful what you spend, and pay the bills before you buy new toys,'" she said.

Collins recommends that providers only make major purchases for the business twice a year, in the spring and the fall.

Collins said there are times when she gets worn out by the kids and the long hours, but she has an assistant who helps. Collins' reason for sticking with the job is simple: She loves it.

Barnts agreed. She said she does work as a child-care provider to help support her family, but making money isn't her sole motivation.

"I love to watch children, especially infants and toddlers. Every day, I see something new through their eyes ... children are our biggest resource, and right now, I'm building the cornerstone of their whole lives, " she said.

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