A watchful eye: Childcare center lets parents view their children on a live Web cam
Choosing a childcare center is a tough decision, but for Troy and Michelle Miller, the live Web cam access was the selling point for Kid's Care America in East Peoria.
In November, they transferred 3-year-old Ryan and 4-month-old Tyler into the new facility, the only daycare center in the area boasting technology that allows parents to check on their children from their computer.
"When we first moved the kids, my husband would watch them all the time, but we're more relaxed now," Miller said. "I love seeing Ryan at reading time or watching Tyler sitting and trying to pull himself up, or napping, and since I can't be there with them, this is the next best thing."
While the quality and educational level of the teachers is important, many parents today cite safety as a major concern when choosing a daycare center. Jessica and Nick Hogue of Peoria, whose 3-year-old, Caitlyn, is enrolled at Kid's Care, are also hooked on the Web cam provision.
"I can't access the Web site from work, but my mom looks in on Caitlyn all the time, and she just enjoys watching her get ready for a nap, how her little blanket has to be a certain way, and it's just great. We just love it," Hogue said.
Each classroom has a camera that is hooked up to the Internet and parents have the option of "looking in" virtually on their child's classroom throughout the day to see how he or she is getting on. The center's Web site is secured, requiring a user name and password to view the real-time video.
"I personally like it. It's a really nice place, and she's safe, and I can check on her at any time," Hogue said. "Plus, it's not like the teachers don't talk to you about how your child did today or anything. The Web cam doesn't replace that personal interaction; it's just something extra that's nice to have."
The center contracts with WatchMeGrow (watchmegrow.com), which developed the technology specifically for use in childcare centers around the country. The fee for Web access is included in the tuition for the infant and toddler rooms, Miller said. "But for children 2 ½ and up, it's $1 a day per child."
Like many area childcare centers, Kid's Care is also family owned and operated.
"Our capacity is for 83 kids," said Jenny Miller, the director. "But we only opened recently, so our numbers are still low."
Miller's brother Jerry Waltz is the main architect of the business plan, which includes the adjoining Fitness America. Another brother, John Waltz, also helps out at the gym, while their father, Bill Waltz, does maintenance and their mother, Kathy Waltz, a retired teacher, helps out occasionally.
"Jerry has been affiliated with the gym since 1992 with other partners," Miller said. He took over as sole owner in 2000 and then added the property on which the daycare center was built.
"We always thought about developing something here, and this seemed right," said Jerry Waltz, who left a career in sales to focus on the new project. "My sister went to ISU to become a schoolteacher, and when she stopped teaching to take care of her kids, we thought this might be a business opportunity we could explore."
Miller's two children are at the 5,400-square-foot center, located off Illinois 116.
With so many other facilities in the area, the Waltz family felt they needed a competitive edge, and the Web cam seemed to be the way to go.
But Kid's Care also uses new technology when it comes to controlling access to the building.
"Even to enter the building, all parents and staff use a fingerprint scanner to get access, so it keeps out the people who shouldn't be there," Miller said.
Other area centers, such as Rogy's Learning Place chain, also put a priority on safety.
"We have a keypad outside the building to which parents have their own individual code to access," said Rick Rogy, whose family owns the daycare center chain. Rogy's has cameras in all the classrooms, and parents can watch their children from the computer in the office, but Rogy said they will not connect the cameras to the Internet because of concerns of hackers.
At PALS Preschool and Kindergarten, parents have a specific card they use to get in and out of the building, thereby screening out the undesirable elements.
A Web cam is not in the future at PALS because it would be difficult to secure the cooperation of all the parents, said Susie Champion, business manager.
"To put a camera in a classroom, you have to have 100 percent cooperation or else it can't be done. Some parents say they don't want it because the children often move around and while you may be looking at your child, there are other children next to him and some parents don't like the idea that other people can also watch their child," she said.
Kid's Care America has an advantage over established childcare centers in that it is offering the technology right at the offset and not introducing it after the children have been enrolled, Miller said.
"It's easier for us because the parents who come to us already know they want this," she said.
Catharine Schaidle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.