Nancy Winchester is having an especially busy day at work.
One of her clients, a high-powered 2-year-old named Jack, is deep in the throes of a temper tantrum. Meanwhile, across the room, a trio of preschool-age girls dance, forming a bobbing blur of glittery pink and purple. As Jack's face reddens and his screams reach an ear-splitting volume, Winchester comforts him with unflappable patience.
"No screaming, no screaming ... oh no, that's not acceptable," she coos serenely.
"This," she says, "is the world of a 2-year-old."
For Winchester, owner of Precious Child Day Care, 506 Riverbend Circle, handling these situations is all in a day's work.
While they may not work from an office and their jobs may not involve computers, deadlines or power lunches, local child care providers say their jobs are as professional as they come.
"A lot of people don't look at providers as real businesses," says Diane Coester, owner of Diane's Day Care, 909 Pamela Lane.
"It's kind of like a business downtown. You open your doors when you open, and you lock the doors when you close."
According to the Douglas County Health Department, there are 233 child care homes in Lawrence. That includes licensed, registered and group-care homes. Licensed child care homes are visited once a year by the DCHD and are allowed to have up to 12 children. Registered child care homes can have up to six children, but they are not visited by the DCHD unless a complaint is filed.
Both Coester and Winchester say it's important for in-home child care providers to have contracts to establish a professional relationship with parents of cared-for children. Many providers also create a handbook outlining daily activities, policies and expectations.
Marietta Winfrey, owner of Little Lambs Day Care, 1121 W. 27th Terrace, says providers also must file taxes and maintain bookkeeping. Winfrey is adamant about the importance of continuing education for providers. She is a member of the Child Care Providers Coalition of Kansas, a not-for profit organization with the purpose of recognizing "child care as an honest, legitimate and important profession," according to its Web site. The CCPC provides support to providers, publishes a bimonthly newsletter and has an annual conference for members. It is participation in programs like these, Winfrey says, that separates baby sitters from in-home care providers.
"We've all grown up as a profession," she says.
Along with its new professionalism, in-home child care has earned an even greater sense of community in the Lawrence area.
"I like the providers here in town," Winfrey says. "We're colleagues instead of competitors."
Lawrence child care providers share a love of their job as well as an understanding of how taxing it can be.
"Many people don't realize how physically tiring and emotionally draining it is," Winfrey said of her job.
Costs of child care
Child care is as cheap as it is easy. The average weekly cost of in-home child care in Douglas County ranges from $112 for a preschool-age child to $124 for an infant. That means that a licensed child care provider caring for 10 children year-round would make roughly $55,000 before taxes. Parents, on the other hand, may pay anywhere between $5,000 and $8,000 each year per child.
"It's expensive to get care for your children," says Anna Jenny, director of the Douglas County Child Development Assn. "But it's expensive to provide care. Usually parents are getting a bargain."
Though Winchester says she loves her job, there are some financial comforts it can't offer.
"This job doesn't have retirement, and it doesn't have a 401(k)," she says.
Regardless of these drawbacks, Lawrence in-home child care providers continue to shape and grow their burgeoning businesses. Though some, like Coester, describe providing child care as "the best job ever," no provider ever calls the job easy.
"Anybody that says it's easy," Winchester says as Jack's screams quiet to whimpers, "isn't doing it right."