Eight years ago, when Revathi Sankaran quit her job as a software developer, her reasons were clear. “I used to leave my two-year-son at a neighbourhood crèche, and he would come sobbing to me every night asking me not to do so. I thought I was playing with the most formative years of his life by dumping him in a place he didn't want to be in.”
Today, she has no qualms of that sort as she leaves her six-month-old daughter in an infant care centre, about a kilometre away from her office in Sholinganallur. “I drop in during lunch every day. Everything is done professionally here,” she says.
If you thought a room full of tiny chairs with pictures of fairytale characters on them was what a day-care centre was about, think again. Professional child-care facilitators hired by software companies and BPOs are changing the face of the institution.
An example is Amelio - it provides and manages day care services for many IT companies, on or close to their premises – set up by Sridevi Raghavan, a graduate from Harvard Business School, along with a team of child psychologists, early intervention specialists and professional care givers. “The child learns so much in her first six years. Shockingly, we found that anybody could set up a child care centre here. There are no regulations or minimum standards,” she says.
Maintaining the correct space ratio, having proper grabbing bars, separate activity areas to suit infants with different sleeping patterns, ensuring age-appropriate activity including introduction to technology and puzzles, clay moulding and crayons are oft-overlooked factors, she says.
Most professional day care centres charge anything over Rs. 6,500 a month which makes them difficult to afford for many lower-rung employees. Meanwhile, traditional day care centres are revamping themselves to meet the rising competition.
“Gone are the days when you could hire two ayahs and start a crèche. Parents are very particular about hygiene now. They want the floors to be disinfected every two hours,” says S. Madhu, who runs Babylawns in Adyar. “Holidays and vacations are when many parents realise it is better to have care facilities near their houses,” she adds.
Others centres showcase unique features. “We organise regular health and eye check ups for children, prepare them for school interviews and even provide counselling sessions to parents to help them choose the right school, says M. Jayshrie of Sweety pies preschool & daycare.
“Most professionally-run ones insist on children speaking in English all the time. Here, to make the child feel comfortable, we use vernacular languages. Even the child's dinner is taken care of,” she says.
Some centres also provide care facilities depending on number of days parents leave their children there. “My husband and I have to go out on foreign assignments. We regularly leave our five-year-daughter with a centre that charges around Rs. 600 a day,” says Suganya Shetty, a tax consultant.
“Despite modern recreational activities or professional care, a day care centre cannot survive if the child does not accept it, because it is her feedback that convinces parents. Giving ample rest and leave to teachers and ayahs in the centre is important to ensure they do not find it frustrating,” says S. Keerthi, of Kidsworld.