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Centers offer free child care to job-seekers

By reaching out to unemployed parents, Little Pros Academy hopes to build goodwill now and possibly build business as the economy rebounds.

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CARY, N.C. — With more parents out of work, day-care centers are feeling the impact of the recession as financially strapped families pull children out and keep them at home

After the mortgage, child care is the biggest expense in many family budgets, costing from $100 to $400 a week. Some day-care centers have dropped their rates, while others are working on special payment plans to keep families enrolled.

"Unfortunately, families lose their jobs, and they can't afford the cost of bringing their kids to preschool, so they have to take them home to find alternative means," said Mike Sullivan, chief operating officer of Little Pros Academy.

Sue Russell, president of Child Care Services Association, a non-profit organization in Chapel Hill that helps parents find affordable child care in Wake, Durham and Orange counties, said more parents are seeking assistance with child care because they have lost their jobs.

"It's not like you can take a toddler to a job interview," Russell said.

Little Pros, which has centers in Cary and Morrisville for children up to age 5, is trying to solve that problem by offering free child care to parents while they're on job interviews. By reaching out to unemployed parents, Little Pros hopes to build goodwill now and possibly build business as the economy rebounds.

"A lot of it is an honesty policy," Sullivan said. "We'd like them to bring in some type of documentation that they're either unemployed at this point, or they're seeking employment right now."

Children can be left at either of the centers for anywhere from an hour to the whole day, he said.

"(Parents can) go look for other jobs, do that interview and take care of some other business while you can," said Brian Calabria, director of the Cary center.

Calabria said he has received one application for the free child-care program since it was announced last week.

Each of the centers – a third location in north Raleigh is expected to open in March – has a gym and a playground and offers meals. The Cary site has 162 children enrolled full time, but staff members said they still have plenty of room for any children of job seekers.

"We do have the space. We have very large facilities," Sullivan said, noting the Cary center can accommodate up to 212 children.

Russell said plenty of day-care centers have available space these days.

"We're seeing vacancies in places that never have vacancies," she said.


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