Parents' dilemma: Finding quality child care at an affordable price

Jason Addy
  • A York-area child-care provider this past fall was charged with child endangerment.
  • Local families know quality child care is not only costly, but can be difficult to find.
  • Family child-care homes are now required to go through the same inspection process as group homes.

Parents looking for quality care for their children run into a number of obstacles on their way to finding a provider.

In York County, quality child-care services that fit a family's specific needs can be hard to find and even harder to afford. The hardest part for many parents, however, is trusting a stranger with their child’s life and well-being.

After knocking over a vase, Chelsea Johnston, of York City, puts a band-aid on her daughter's wrist, before she goes to work Saturday, Feb. 11, 2017. Johnston, who previously had a regular sitter, will be forced to get creative, with her child care or continue to use unlicensed, unregistered providers. Amanda J. Cain photo

For several local families, their worst fear became reality this past fall when their York-area child-care provider was charged with child endangerment after allegedly leaving a group of young children alone at her home one morning.

On Nov. 22, Gina Henry, an unlicensed child-care provider in Springettsbury Township, allegedly left six children — from 3 months to 2 years old — home alone for 20 minutes while she picked up two others.

She allegedly put the six children in her basement, including a 3-month-old infant strapped into a car seat, while she picked up the other children. Henry was charged with six misdemeanor counts of child endangerment after an aunt of one of the children saw Henry leave her home and called police when she returned.

Child endangerment charges for Springettsbury day-care operator

Paying for trust: While Henry faces charges, local families must face the reality that quality child care is not only costly, but can be difficult to find.

John Alfano of Dallastown shared his own horror story from when his high school-aged son was young.

While grocery shopping one day, Alfano said he ran into the person who was supposed to be watching the boy at their home. Alfano said he immediately stopped sending his son to that provider after his trust was broken.

“You trust someone to watch your kid, and you’re paying them for that trust. When you catch them not living up to your expectations or their responsibilities, you have to wonder ‘When didn’t I catch them?’” Alfano said. “Kids are zero-tolerance. Until (they are) a certain age, you’re on constant suicide watch. It’s constant stress.”

Alfano, 49, said he found very limited options when searching for a provider to watch his daughter before and after school hours.

Alfano said he works full time in Baltimore and needed a provider who was able to transport his daughter to and from school on weekdays. There was not much of a decision to make though, as Alfano found just two options that bussed children to and from school — one of which was full.

Before his daughter was old enough for elementary school, Alfano said his wife got a job at his daughter’s pre-K program, enabling her to work flexible hours and watch their daughter at the same time.

Alfano said the price of child-care services forces many people to decide between working to earn money for the services or stay at home and save the money that would have been spent.

Affordability: Chelsea Johnston, of York City, said she had been paying a private babysitter $30 per day to watch her 3-year-old daughter Natalie, but the sitter recently quit. Johnston said she plans to put her daughter into a quality early learning center after she turns 4 in April,

Johnston has joint custody of her daughter, leaving her responsible for child care three days each week.

When Johnston’s first sitter was no longer able to watch her daughter, she said she spent  months working with several women and child-care centers until she found a permanent sitter at the right price.

Natalie Bruno, 3, of York City, plays with her troll dolls, before her mother goes to work Saturday, Feb. 11, 2017. Chelsea Johnston, who previously had a regular sitter for Natalie, will be forced to get creative, with her child care or continue to use unlicensed, unregistered providers. Amanda J. Cain photo

After doing some research into local child-care providers for her daughter, Johnston said she found that most large child-care centers cost at least $150 per week, while care for younger children at many centers can run more than $200 per week.

Johnston said she found a child-care center that was in her price range and met her expectations in terms of the curriculum, but the facility could only accept 12 children. Johnston said she was put on a waiting list and never heard back from them, forcing her to find another option.

Though she earns enough to provide quality child care for her daughter, Johnston admitted it still takes a “huge chunk” out of her budget and said she sometimes has to sacrifice and get creative to make things work.

Johnston, a realtor in York Haven, said she has lost out on multiple sales and tapped into her vacation time on days when her sitter is unavailable to work. Her parents have stepped in to help her several times, while she also has taken her daughter to work when she has no other option, Johnston said.

Though she is willing to pay up to $35 a day for a quality Pre-kindergarten program, Johnston said she would expect a first-rate curriculum and a healthy nutritional plan at that price.

“Thankfully, we’re fortunate enough to be able to pay for it,” Johnston said. “It’s just a matter of really buckling down and changing your lifestyle. It’s a mortgage payment.”

West York KinderCare, a child-care center at 1540 Rodney Road, serves about 80 children between the ages of 6 weeks and 12 years, said Michele Farleman, the center’s director.

The child-care center has several price points for its services, which vary based on children’s ages and whether care is needed part-time or full-time, Farleman said.

Enrolling an infant at the center would cost $264 per week, while care for preschool-aged children costs $224 week. School-aged child-care at West York KinderCare costs $199 per week, Farleman said.

The center offers a discount for members of the military and several others for new enrollees, Farleman said, and works with the local child-care information service agency to help reduce the cost of care.

Dallastown: Finances behind day care bus fee

Licensing/inspection: Before a provider’s license application is approved, a state inspector will visit the facility to look for basic health and safety issues, such as peeling paint and uncovered outlets, while making sure policies and procedures are in place for injuries, emergencies, evacuations and how to administer medication, among other situations, said Diane Barber, executive director of the Pennsylvania Child Care Association.

Farleman said child-care providers are given a 30-day window during which an inspection will take place. During this unannounced visit, inspectors walk through the facility looking for code violations and pore over teacher clearances, qualifications and other documentation, Farleman said.

Pennsylvania has about 7,700 certified facilities, and each must be inspected annually by the Department of Human Services, said Tanya Vasquez, director of the Bureau of Certification Services, the state’s child-care licensing agency. Vasquez estimated that 100 to 150 of those facilities are currently under sanctions from the department.

Due to a recent change in federal regulations, all family child-care homes are now required to go through the same inspection process as group homes and centers, Barber said.

The regulations have brought about a much more concerted effort to monitor and educate family child-care homes, as inspectors visited less than 15 percent of family child-care homes before the regulations were implemented, Barber said.

Gina Henry’s home child-care center allegedly flouted several key regulations from the state Department of Human Services.

At the time of the incident, Henry’s child-care license had been expired for almost a year, and she was watching at least eight children, according to court documents. Even with a license, Henry would have only been allowed to care for up to six children at one time, according to state regulations. Due to the ages of the children, Henry would have been limited to serving four children at a time.

Henry has filed an application to enter the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition program, said Kyle King, spokesman for the York County District Attorney’s Office. ARD is a diversionary program that allows first-time nonviolent offenders to avoid possible conviction by instead completing a series of court-order requirements.