26-year old Sarika R, an IT professional from Bangalore, is anxious about her 10-month old son Ganesh while she prepares to go back to work after a year’s extended maternity leave. As her parents live in a different city, she doesn’t have any one to take care of her toddler while at office. "I have been looking around for options of day care for him," she says, "but there are so many things that need to be taken care of for a child – it’s a difficult choice."
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This feeling is familiar among working mothers in a city like Bangalore. With more and more women joining the workforce, balancing work and home is a challenge. The increasing phenomenon of nuclear families has only complicated issues further. While there are plenty of options available, from crèches in the neighbourhood to domestic helps to day care centres in office campuses, the choices have only made decision making that much harder for these women.
Another IT professional Bharathi Govindaswamy has been leaving her son at a day care centre since he was just nine months old. He is now four and a half, but he still at day care after school till his mother is ready to pick him up after office. For Bharathi, leaving the child with a domestic help all day was not an option. "I have heard of so many horror stories about children being mishandled by maids that I became paranoid about it," she says.
According to Pruthvi Banavasi of Roots, it is an informed choice that parents have to make. For a two and a half year-old child the interaction with other children is as important as nutrition, and this cannot be provided inside a house, he says. This day care centre and Montessori school is located in Jayanagar fifth and eighth blocks. Each centre has about 100 students. Though it is primarily a Montessori school Roots provides day care centre facilities for smaller children, and for older ones after school.
However Banavasi is very clear that they do not want to be the ones who make the child do homework after school. They provide the child with a safe and nurturing environment, giving the child all the freedom here. "We encourage children to be creative and independent. We are not here to replace parents," he says.
Small is beautiful
There are any number of such crèches which provide the similar facilities minus the professional approach. 31-year old Diya Sharma decided to leave her daughter with her neighbour, who was running a day care centre in her own house in Banshankari 2nd stage. The centre does not even have a name. Says Diya, "I didn’t want some big fancy place for my daughter. The lady who runs the place is a familiar face for my child, so she’s comfortable. And I know I can trust this lady with my daughter. That’s what matters."
She however agrees that she might be compromising on the quality in terms of educating the child that professional centres might be offering. But that’s a compromise she’s willing to make for her daughter’s comfort.
To work with mom
The timings of day care centres is another issue that working mothers face. With long working hours becoming a norm, it is imperative that day are centres be accommodative of this arrangement. Many women have found help in their companies. Many companies like IBM, HP and Infosys have crèches in their own campus or close by.
Bright Vistas is once such centre in Electronic City, which has a major clientele of mothers working in Infosys. Ruchi Verma has been leaving her daughter Zara for more than a year at this centre. Bright Vistas is open from 8.30am to 7pm which makes it convenient for Ruchi to drop in whenever she gets a break from work. "If I have meetings scheduled in the evenings, I request them to take care of Zara a little longer," says Ruchi. An arrangement like this could go a long way in helping women further their careers after a break with less guilt, she adds, a feeling other working mothers acknowledge whole heartedly.
But there are just three such day care centres in all of Electronic City and the waiting list at these centres runs into hundreds.
- Is the ambience child friendly? (No sharp corners, no rusted play area equipment, accessible toilets)
- What is their policy on monitoring open play areas?
- What is their child to adult ratio for supervision? (Refer International standards below)
- Do they have access to medical aid/doctors in cases of emergencies?
- What is their policy on caring for sick children?
Health and Hygiene
- Does the centre maintain cleanliness in all areas, especially kitchen and toilets?
- Do they use clean beds and bed sheets for the nap time?
- Are the teachers/caregivers trained to handle children of that age group?
- How do they interact with children? Do they answer their questions and attend to their needs?
- What is their everyday schedule? Do they have a fixed routine?
- Are they flexible to suit children’s needs?
- Do children get enough time to interact with each other or is it all individual activities?
- Speak to other parents at the school and get feedback
- Does your child look happy and active after spending time at the day care centre?
- Does the centre have an open-door policy on parent visits?
- Do the teachers answer all your questions and concerns?
International standards of adult to child ratio
9-24 months – 1:2
2-3 years – 1:4
3-4 years – 1:6
4-5 years – 1:8
5-6 years – 1:10
Apart from location and timings there are number of other criteria that women will have to consider before leaving their children in someone’s care. Health and hygiene is a big issue. It is quite common that children pick up small infections and viruses from each other at a place like day care centre, where there are too many children at close proximity. It is therefore important that the centre should be clean and equipped to handle small emergencies such as fever, cuts and bruises.
Most day care centres do have tie-ups with a pediatrician or at least a general practitioner for emergencies. Meena Sivaraman of ‘Bright Vistas’ says they keep a check on each one of the children and at the slightest hint of discomfort, parents are informed. However if parents are particular about the pediatrician the child is taken to, the day care centres then refrain from attending to the child.
Children spend anywhere between three to nine hours at crèches and day care centres. Hence, access to nutritious food also becomes an issue. Most parents pack food in the morning which is reheated during the day and fed to children by the attendants at the day care centres.
Kara, a high-end day care centre located in HSR layout and RMV 2nd stage provides cooked food for the children. The HSR centre has about hundred children of all age groups starting from nine months to six years.
Kara also has various music and art related activities. Founder Katherine Rustumji says the entire day’s activity is planned around the ‘rhythm of childhood’. ‘We believe in multi sensorial approach’ she says, ‘we make learning fun. The children have got admitted to mainstream schools at the appropriate age, which means we are doing something right."
Kara also provides care for children with special needs. The centre however does not encourage children staying on campus beyond 6 PM. Katherine echoes Banvasi when she says they not here to replace parents, emphasising that the child should get time with her parents. "Companies should encourage flexi-hours and give the option of working from home for mothers," she says.
Some day care centres take a proactive approach to help parents. Roots, for example, has an open day on Saturdays for parents to come and understand the school’s teaching methods, in this case the Montessori approach. Kara has the concept of ‘Connect Club’ which connects parents with various specialists, who may otherwise be inaccessible to parents.
The fees for day care centres vary from Rs.500 a month if it’s the friendly neighbourhood crèche at Banashankari to upwards of Rs.5000 at a place like Kara. Some centres also have an option of taking care of children on an hourly basis.
Back to Sarika. After talking to number of parents and visiting a few crèches, Sarika decided to leave her son Ganesh at a day care centre next to her office. She works in Electronic City and it is a long drive from Koramangala for her son. But Sarika is happy that she will get to see her son at coffee and lunch breaks and they will ride back home together. She’s hoping Ganesh will be happy with this arrangement too.⊕
Padmalatha Ravi is a Bangalore-based journalist.