As the number of working parents continues to increase, the demand for reliable and affordable child care facilities too is on the rise, writes Vibha Singh
Varuna Shetty, software professional, planned to quit her job when she had her baby seven months ago. But last year, her company opened a day care facility for children within the workplace, helping her make the decision to be a working mom instead. “I decided to continue working. Now, even though I’m working. I am able to nurse my baby and it feels like a home away from home,” she says.
Yet, even as crèches at the workplace are becoming more popular with organisations, the supply does not meet the demand. Out of 100 organisations in a city like Mumbai, only 10 to 15 offer these services. Puja and Rajavi, owners of Backyard Bears, say, “There are various reasons for that, mainly the economics that go with a quality day care. Space comes at a price and metro cities are anyways short of space. The concept of day care is still in nascent stages in India therefore people are reluctant to pay a certain price for the quality. Our society is moving from the traditional joint families to nuclear families. The concept of day care is still evolving. When people think of day care, they feel it is just babysitting. There are no set standards by the government for day care centers and there are no inspections.”
Nowadays, in an effort to retain talent, motivate employees and bring in a positive work culture, several organisations — including banks, IT companies, and legal firms and manufacturing industries — are tying up with day care centers to set up crèches in their offices. A number of working women have returned to work after their maternity leave because this facility is available at the workplace. Avanti Singh, scientist, Bhabha Atomic Research Center (BARC) says. “A day care center plays a huge role in retaining talent. Organisations put a lot of effort in training young women and it is a huge loss when they are compelled to quit due to lack of child-care facilities.”
Many parents like day care centers because they offer a formal, structured environment. Dr Aparna Ghosh, gyanecologist says, “I didn’t feel comfortable with the idea of hiring a maid. I know taking care of a child can be frustrating and a maid can also find it stressful.” Rather than worry about how a maid might handle her daughter during particularly trying moments, she decided on day care.
The other plus point is that there are a set of rules and guidelines parents have to follow and it is more affordable. Vini Maheshwari, financial consultant, whose five-year-old daughter has been attending day care since she was five-months old, says she likes the fact that her daughter spends her day doing projects and honing skills in a structured setting. Agrees and adds Bela Kotwani, CEO & Principal, Cosmikids International, “The centers are a boon for working parents, especially those living in nuclear families. We have got a very good response as parents have peace of mind knowing their child is cared for appropriately. Here the children learn and have fun at the same time.
We have thematic learning in the morning and evening time we have two different activities every day. The child is engaged in meaningful learning. A large number of families have chosen to have one child and give them the best. In such instances the child under develops interpersonal skills. By being part of a quality day care such they learn to socialise with their peers, learn values of sharing, honesty, being thankful, all while being supervised in a 1 to 8 ratio of care giver and child.”
According to a survey by Backyard Bears, the top three concerns of working parents were hygiene and safety, adult-child ratio and price. Also, the place should also be spacious with a lot of natural light which should be warm and welcoming to the children as well as the parents. Niharika Basu, media consultant says, “I want that the centres maintain emergency services like night-transport, first-aid kits, chef-on-call and round-the-clock security. The staff should be trained to look after children, including babies under the age of one, and know how to hold them, bathe them and feed them. Also, they are equipped to handle medical emergencies.”
Space is the biggest constraint in city like Mumbai. Organisation’s are not willing to invest as rental rates are very high. Besides, crèches should ideally be built on ground floors for safety reasons, but in Mumbai vacant slots are available only on top floors. Puja says, “Our first challenge was to find a space in the city which we felt was spacious enough for children so that they do not feel confined in a small room and give them a chance to run around and explore. We also wanted qualified teachers and well trained staff as we feel that our best asset has to be our staff.”
Kotwani agrees and adds, “I had planned to start the night care facility at least two days a week, but unfortunately could not get the trusted staff for the same. This generation of parents would prefer this facility as they work hard and deserve to party at times.”
Recently the Maharashtra State Commission for Women framed new set of guidelines wherein all government, semi-government and private office complexes in cities which have more than 500 women employees must have day care centres. Registration is mandatory for these centers and caretakers have to be qualified. Vijaya Rahate, chairperson of State Women’s Commission, says, “Now only qualified and at least three months trained people can be employed in creches. Also we are focusing on the hygiene aspects, first aid kit and, also, the quality of toys that should be used for the children.”
But some experts like Kotwani, are of the view that the policy states that this facility to be given to parents till their child is two years. This seems a bit unfair. The child may go to a pre-school for 2 to 3 hours However, after that time there is no solution for working parents who live in nuclear families. The largely used alternative is to leave the child at home with the domestic helper. This individual is rarely qualified to instil important life skills in children left in their care. As a result those children spend large portion of their day watching TV.”