By Julie A. Brink
Kim Smith of Centre Hall and Rhonda Leiter of Howard watch other people's children full time for a living.
They are two of the 64 home-care providers in Centre County caring for an estimated 384 children. The number is growing, according to Cynthia Pollich, family child-care adviser from the Office of Human Resources Work/Life Programs. Her office provides training to home-care providers like Smith and Leiter, both of whom are continuing their educations through the University.
They are working toward their Child Development Association (CDA) certificates through training offered by the Office of Human Resources Work/Life Programs. The certificate recognizes competencies in a series of child-care issues. Pollich is in charge of those training programs, which include classes, home visits, observation and advice.
She provides training in areas of childhood development, professional development and health and safety. Her classes are geared toward the educational needs of the home providers.
"When I first started, providers wanted information on fun stuff like arts and crafts," she said. "Now they're moving toward the professional development area of their profession -- the business aspects of becoming an entrepreneur, a better understanding of early childhood education."
CDA classes center on eight professional competencies: professional development, communications, parent participation, child development, health, safety, observation and record keeping.
Some 13 people are enrolled right now working toward their 140 hours of classwork to get certification. The evening classes are held in various locations around the county.
Pollich also publishes a hefty monthly newsletter, The Network, that includes information on child-health issues, activities and crafts, a monthly calendar of ideas, book lists, Web sites, songs and poems and CDA class information as well as a schedule of training sessions.
The newsletter gives a pretty good description of what Pollich's office has to offer: ideas on good business practices, including marketing and advertising, contracts, handbooks, the interview process for new families; support of other professionals and providers in the area; access to a lending library; and training toward hours needed by Department of Public Welfare in areas like paperwork, taxes, child development, crafts, inclusion, etc.
The Network, found on the Web at http://www.ohr.psu.edu/worklife/Network, is mailed out to providers in Centre, Clearfield, Clinton, Elk and Jefferson counties.
Pollich anticipates a rising number of home-care providers requiring training.
"The economy is playing into it as people are losing their jobs," she said. "Women are staying home because they can't afford child care, but need the second income.
"People expect a lot from the providers but don't want to pay them for all they do," Pollich continued. "They make very poor wages and work long, hard hours. As the rules for inclusion have changed to be a natural environment, many families are choosing to send their children to family home providers, so their training must be geared to support and caring for children with special needs."
From 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, Smith cares for four children ranging in age from 2 to 5. She's been doing it for the past eight years.
Smith quit a $22,000 a year job to start the project, joking that she'd never even been a baby sitter before she took on full-time, child-care duties.
"She (Pollich) has been a huge asset," Smith said. "We can call her and she'll come out and help you set up your program better. I sure wish Cyndy and her program had been here eight to 10 years ago when I first started out. It would have been a great help."
Smith, who is working toward an associate degree in early childhood education as well as a CDA through the University, has taken a number of courses with Pollich, whom she credited with helping her find grants and scholarships to continue her education as well as better serve the children in her charge.
For instance, Smith cares for a hearing-impaired youngster. She's taken several classes in sign language and one on setting up her home environment for healthy, safe learning.
She said the training programs helped her find support from her peers.
"It's nice to talk to other providers -- to know I'm not the only one who has the problem," she said. "When you work by yourself for 10-12 hours a day with just children, you forget there are other adults out there with the same issues."
Leiter has four children ranging in ages from 10 months to 7 years in her care and expects to soon have another child join her. The children are at her house from 6:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays and 5:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Fridays.
"I'm getting better ideas on ways I can communicate with parents, communicate with children and teaching children -- whether its teaching them to share or teaching them math concepts," she said. "I've furthered my education so that I'm a better teacher and provider for the children."
Pollich recently received a $66,800 grant from the state Department of Public Welfare to continue her work. It will augment and support current training for this fiscal year.
"We are here as a support resource, not as a monitor," Pollich said.