Children are their business

picture-71Ivana Ires Rezende, 42, sits with 10 children age 3 to 6, watching them mix paint into small piles of shaving cream before smearing the colorful mess across a tabletop. Shouted fragments of English and Spanish mix with laughter and the occasional shriek. “Kids need rules and manners,” she says through a translator, smiling. “But they also need time to be kids.”

Brazilian-born Rezende runs a thriving day-care center out of her Roxbury apartment, and is one of eight women to have this year earned a Child Development Associate credential through a training program offered by the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation. The intensive program is an effort to ease the shortage of highly trained childcare providers in Boston, and to help women – many of them immigrants – create new economic opportunities for themselves and their families.

In 2000, unable to find affordable care for her daughter so that she could work, Rezende signed up for basic child-care training offered by the development corporation, completing a three-month licensing preparation program that included CPR and first-aid instruction, childcare orientation, and a background check.

She then joined the Jamaica Plain-based Family Childcare Program, a network of 22 women who offer their services through the development corporation. The program, launched in 1997, provides affordable child care to 80 families in Jamaica Plain, Roxbury, Hyde Park, Roslindale, South Boston, and Charlestown.

“Each provider is an independent contractor running her own business,” says program director Gladys Barboza. Her staff collects sliding-scale payments from parents, as well as state and federally funded vouchers, and reimburses each provider at the state-mandated rate of $26.35 per child per day, or $29.80 for infants under 2 years old. “We deal with all the billing, so that they can focus on the kids.”

Barboza’s staff also provides home visits, networking meetings, and technical support. “Providers often just want someone to talk to,” she says of the home visits. “Sometimes we’re the only adults they interact with during the work day.”

She says the providers, all Latina, are providing much needed Spanish-language services in their communities. “The majority of our clients require a Spanish-speaking provider,” she says, “though nine or 10 of our families are English speakers who want their children to learn Spanish.” She estimates that four of the 22 providers also speak English.

While many of the providers in the program were born outside the United States, all are citizens or have permanent residency status. “Home-based providers are licensed through the state of Massachusetts,” says Barboza, “and obtaining a license requires a valid Social Security number.”

Meeting the need for affordable child care in Massachusetts is an enormous challenge. Sharon Scott-Chandler, vice president of Head Start and children’s services at Action for Boston Community Development , the agency that dispenses childcare vouchers in metro Boston, estimates that over 17,000 families across the state are currently on a waiting list that is up to two years long for subsidized services.

She says training programs like those offered by the Jamaica Plain group and her own agency help ensure that more providers are delivering consistent, high-quality care. The designation, which is awarded by the Council for Professional Recognition, requires 120 hours of childcare education, creation of a portfolio, observation days, and several tests. “It tells parents that you’ve taken course work to back up your practical skills,” says Scott-Chandler. “It indicates that you are at a higher level.”

Barboza agrees, but adds that a child development associate credential also benefits providers. “They make more money because their practices are full,” she says. “Parents are drawn to providers with this extra level of training.”

Rezende began training for her credential in 2004. “It was difficult,” she says of juggling classes with running her business. “But it taught me so much. My activities with the kids are better, and I’m much better now at running my center and communicating with parents.”

One of those parents is Aybelis Lara , a single mother from Roslindale who leaves her two boys with Rezende so she can work 40 hours a week as a teacher at a Jamaica Plain day care center. “I feel very comfortable with her,” she says of Rezende. “I see how much my older son is learning, and I know that he is in a good place.”

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