When Amanda Pacer was in the last weeks of her pregnancy, she and her husband, David, visited several day care centers in Jersey City and Hoboken in search of an available slot for her daughter, Bailey, who had yet to be born.
The Pacers started the day care hunt early, having already learned the hard way how difficult it can be to find an accredited day care center on short notice.
“When I had our son, I ended up having to delay when I went back to work because we couldn’t find any spaces available,” Amanda Pacer said. Seven years ago, when she had her son, Brian, the family was living in Brooklyn and she said they expected to be placed on a waiting list. “I had heard horror stories from other moms about how hard it was to find space in a good day care center in Park Slope, so I wasn’t all that surprised [when it happened back then]...I didn’t expect this in Jersey City.”
The wait list wait can wreak havoc on maternity leave schedules.
On local blogs and internet sites, new and expectant mothers who plan to return to work share information – and fears – regarding space availability in area day care centers. In nearby Hoboken, day care space became so tight several years ago that people recommended getting on the list as soon as a mother became pregnant. Now, there are more day care centers in Hoboken, so the wait is not as long.
‘It’s good that you’re starting early’
Last week the Reporter called several Jersey City day care centers and asked about their waiting lists for newborns. Of the five centers called at random, all said they currently had waiting lists. We were still encouraged to visit the centers and, if still interested, to fill out an application. Three of the five centers said space might be available in the fall.
“October is a good time to come in because that’s a transition period when a lot of children are shifting into other age group settings,” one center told us. (In our calls, we said we were looking for infant day care beginning in September or October. Some centers accept infants as early as six weeks old.)
“It’s good that you’re starting early,” another center told us. “I can tell you a lot can change between now and October. People now on the waiting list might drop off if they find something else. Some of our families move away from Jersey City. There is a chance you could be off the waiting list by September. So I encourage you to visit the center and get on the waiting list soon if you’re interested.”
When asked if anything might become available before September or October, one center said, “Well, I guess anything is possible.”
Of the five centers called, none appeared to have a list as long as the rumored 12 months.
Race against time
Other factors can complicate getting an infant accepted into an accredited day care facility, according to the centers called last week.
Most facilities give preference to the sisters and brothers of children who are already enrolled. Also, of the age groups accepted by many day care centers – infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and kindergartners – it is most difficulty to find available space for infants.
For mothers planning to return to work after a pregnancy, the wait list wait can wreak havoc with their maternity leave schedules.
Under the New Jersey State Family Leave Act, parents who work for companies of 50 or more people based in the Garden State can take up to 12 weeks of paid or unpaid leave following the birth or adoption of a child. Parents are also covered by the Federal Family and Medical Leave Act, which also allows new parents to take up to 12 weeks of paid or unpaid leave following the birth or adoption of a child. The federal law also applies only to people who work at companies that have at least 50 employees.
There are several exceptions to these rules, and companies are not always required to take back an employee who has gone on leave.
Parents who have not found day care space for their newborns by the end of their leave may find themselves racing against time.
After exhausting her maternity leave, Amanda Pacer was forced to use some of her annual and sick leave to cover the last two weeks Bailey was still on the day care waiting list.
“Thank God we put her on waiting lists when we did,” she said. She admits she’s not sure what she would have done if Bailey had spent more time on a waiting list.
“For the family that hasn’t really planned and thought out all these little details well in advance, this can be a real surprise,” said Holly Chartier, a Jersey City mother of three who works at a day care facility in Bergen County. “I know of at least three women that had to either beg members of their family to babysit until they could find [day care] space, or that were forced to negotiate additional leave with their jobs.”
Chartier recommends that parents begin the day care search in the early stages of pregnancy if they want to guarantee a space by the time the mother’s maternity leave ends.
When asked whether parents should begin the process even earlier, say before conception, she said, “No. I’m not convinced that’s necessary. Space is tight in Jersey City, but it isn’t that tight. At least not yet.”
Current – or future – parents looking for accredited day care centers can refer to the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies and the National Association for the Education of Young Children.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.