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In-Home Child Care: Everyday Heros

Written by Kate Wolf for The Ord Quiz. Originally Published in The Ord Quiz: Wednesday, March 9, 2022, Vol. 141, No. 10

Thank you to The Ord Quiz for permission to re-publish this article on LVCI's website and for helping to share the stories of initiatives to address the important topic of childcare capacity in the Valley County area.

It takes a heart as big as Valley County and beyond to care for other people’s children in your own home. And it’s not as easy as you might assume. In Nebraska, anyone who provides child care to four or more children from different families must be a licensed child care provider. Federal mandate requires National Criminal History Record checks and fingerprints for all child care workers. In addition to the application, there is a $25 application fee, Felony/Misdemeanor Statements, copies of required First Aid Training and CPR certification, as well as documentation of completed 12 hours of Educational In-Service annually.

There are two in-home child care license categories:

  1. Family Child Care Home I: in the provider’s home, maximum capacity of eight kids of mixed ages plus two additional school aged children during non-school hours.

  2. Family Child Care Home II: in the provider’s home or at another location, maximum capacity is 12 children and two providers.

“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work,” stated long time child care provider, Janel Melia. “The only way to do great work is to love what you do. I love taking care of children and I get to be my own boss.”

Little Country Daycare enjoyed the beautiful weather last week! Pictured: (top row L to R) Sydney Gates, Janel Melia, Olivia Kozeal, Sharon Manchester, Billie Welniak. (Middle L to R) Lark Shaffer, Trace Smith, Zayden Cox. (Bottom row L to R) Kysen Cox, Drew Welniak, Russell Staab, Hayze Guddner, Brooke Gates and Nelson Woodward.

Melia, who owns and operates “Little Country Daycare,” is a licensed category II business. She started out at Laurie Hervert’s “Kids-R-Us” Daycare years ago but, when Hervert closed, Melia had a big decision to make. She followed her heart and has now been an in-home child care provider for the past 26 years having served over 100 families and caring for well over 300 children. She calculates that she has changed over one million diapers and served countless meals during that time. Her business is rather unique in that it is on a working family farm which provides the children in her care some very special experiences.

“They get to be outdoors and watch the animals, help to bottle feed baby calves, take rides in the combine, go on nature walks and learn about farm life,” Melia explained. “I wanted to continue with this career because I love kids, but I wanted to take care of my own as well.”

In 1996, she was at a category I in-home child care provider with eight kids on her roster. Demand was incredibly high, so she made another important decision to increase her licensed capacity to 12. Her father had just passed away and her mother, Sharon Manchester who is a retired nurse, agreed to become the second required provider on site. At the age of 80, Manchester remains the healthy, active, vibrant and engaged individual her daughter, Janel, needs her to be, since caring for 12 young children is not an easy task.

“I’d be lost without her,” Melia commented.

Most people do not have a very clear understanding of the requirements involved, the paperwork blizzard, or the inspections that occur in maintaining in-home state licensure, in addition to the complex application process and obtaining the mandatory In-Service hours.

The water quality is tested annually because “Little Country Daycare” is in a rural setting. The temperature of the water is checked, height of sinks and toilets, fire alarms and fire safety, outdoor fencing is carefully scrutinized, in addition to all enrollment paperwork, immunization records and more. The regulations state that in-home child care providers must permit immediate and unrestricted access, both announced and unannounced, to Department of Health and Human Services representatives during the hours of operation. Failure to do so will be the basis for suspension or revocation of license.

The 12 hours of mandatory Educational In-Service hours Nebraska requires, in addition to homework that must be submitted, can also add to the complex nature of this career field. Ever since the advent of COVID-19, some of these courses are available as Zoom classes. But in most cases, it requires travel to a metropolitan area and as much as $400 in fees. The Loup Valley Childhood Initiative has helped immeasurably by offering these educational hours and other training free of charge here in Valley County to help ease the burden.

According to Melia, the worst thing these days is going to the grocery store. Not only has the cost of food inflated alarmingly, but trying to develop meal plans that adhere to Food Program guidelines is often frustrating. Only high content multi-grain breads can be served, a designated number of proteins must be met, specific fruits and vegetables are recommended, as well as serving size per child. Even afternoon snacks must meet prescribed guidelines.

“Whoever sits behind the desk and makes up these regulations obviously never had to work with children,” Sharon Manchester firmly remarked. Heaven forbid the kids should be served anything that is remotely in the shape of a cookie!

But the best thing? The very best thing of all is the relationship in-home providers develop over the years with the children and their parents. Make no mistake….these dedicated providers become the “Other Mother”.

“Childcare demands patience, a passion for learning and caring, and lots of compassion,” remarked Lori Rogers, who is also CEO of her own in-home child care business. “I’ve always had a love for children and babies, watching children grow, develop and learn, as well as the partnership with their families. The hardest part is when families move away and you have to say goodbye to that child you have grown to love. The trust and support I have received from families over the last 30 years is overwhelming. I thank them for sharing their families with me.”

Cathy Trampe is yet another highly respected, long term, in home child care provider in Valley County who cherishes her relationship with the children and families in her care.

“When we moved here more than 27 years ago, I couldn’t find daycare for my two youngest children,” she explained. “So I decided to start my own daycare business. I enjoyed being home with my children and loved watching my daycare kids grow from infants to school-age. I’ve been lucky to have had so many families with me for several years that are like extended families. I’m so thankful they chose to share their children with me.”

It rips the heart out of most women who must work outside the home to leave their little ones with anyone else. They all know precisely how much they are missing: The first words, the first tentative steps, the first tooth and priceless moments that can never be recovered. It is critical that they develop a partnership with their child care provider that is based on mutual trust, respect and sensitivity to one another’s needs and expectations.

In many cases, the in-home provider becomes a very important part of each child’s family. They are included in family celebrations, consulted in times of crisis, kept closely advised of any serious health issues and are always very much beloved by their charges. Once these children reach maturity and have children of their own, they want their kids to experience the same upbringing that they enjoyed. Unfortunately, however, that is not always possible due to the critical shortage of child care providers, not only in Valley County, but across the entire state of Nebraska. And if there is one universal trait amongst in-home child care providers it is that they hate to be forced to turn children away.

“I would like to thank all past, present and future clients for giving me the opportunity to be a part of their family and to be able to help their children grow,” Janet Melia concluded. “These kids become your family and I love them like my own.”

Lori Rogers agreed. “For someone who is considering a career in child care, the joy and fun you will experience is so rewarding.”

“I’d encourage anyone who loves working with children to consider child care,” Cathy Trampe added. “It’s very rewarding! I think one thing that might help new providers get started is to have an existing provider mentor them if they so choose. It would be a great support system for them. Children are our future and they deserve the best!"

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