Homer Alaska - Opinion

Story last updated at 4:01 PM on Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Could 'baby houses' build better community?

Point of View

By Susannah Webster

I'm writing this appeal to those who love babies. I mean really love babies. Can you imagine supporting yourself financially by taking care of three babies (under 15 months old) in your home? Have you ever thought you'd enjoy triplets?

If this sounds like a ridiculous proposition, read no further.

But if the idea of having three tiny sidekicks is intriguing — perhaps even appealing — than I'd like to pitch an idea.

As owner of Smallpond Childcare, I frequently get phone calls from families inquiring about availability. I have noticed a disproportionate number of these calls coming from parents seeking care for their infants (children under 12 months) or very young toddlers (12-15 months). I receive on average three such phone calls a month and last summer I was fielding between 4-6 calls a week.

My own program is not well suited to accept children this young, but my heart breaks every time I have to turn away a family desperate for quality child care. Private nannies are either out of the question financially, or simply too difficult to find, hire and keep for any helpful period of time. Daycare centers are often not an ideal situation for infants.

While the very idea of parents returning to work soon after a baby is born may strike some as a sad or unfortunate event, it doesn't have to be. Grandparents, older siblings and aunties and uncles have historically shared in the care of babies. When families are lucky enough to live close by relatives, a natural support exists to provide a much needed few hours or even full-time care.

I imagine a town in which many (maybe even dozens) of licensed "baby homes" exist to provide the same kind of excellent care for working families. There are many people in this town who may never have considered a job in "child care." In general, the pay is terrible, the hours are long and without support it can feel overwhelming and isolating.

But it doesn't have to be this way.

You can be your own boss, set your own hours and rates and work with families that share your values and expand your community. A home providing care for three infants could earn a minimum of $2,500 a month. In addition, homes licensed by the state are eligible for a one-time start up grant of $500, monthly grants to help with the cost of materials, toys, etc. as well as reimbursement for meals served (three infants, fed breakfast, lunch and a snack would bring in more than $400 a month).

Turning all or part of your home into a "baby house" is certainly not a good match for everyone (or even most), but I know that there are some, like myself, who find working with young children to be magical and who would find great satisfaction in supporting themselves by providing a valuable service to our community.

Working with infants doesn't require a background in early childhood education or the same investment in curriculum, equipment and dedicated space that is necessary to work with toddlers and preschoolers. The right person with a rocking chair and a few wooden spoons to bang on a pot is already on their way. The process of becoming a licensed home can be daunting, and not everyone who loves babies is suited to provide the kind of care needed.

But I do believe that this idea has potential to support families and grow stronger communities and I'm happy to be a contact person for those who are interested in learning more. Email me at homerbabyhouses@gmail.com.

Susannah Webster grew up in Homer and has returned to raise her family. She is the owner of Smallpond Childcare. She writes she feels lucky that her job affords her the luxury of bringing her children to work.

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