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On Candid Camera: Video Services That Focus On Day-Care Centers Can Make A Parent Smile
By Siona LaFrance, Staff Writer
The Times-Picayune

In Nina Nichols' brightly decorated beginning pre-kindergarten classroom at McMillian's First Steps Child Care Development Center on North Claiborne Avenue, a group of 3-year-olds sitting at tiny tables concentrated over worksheets, drawing lines from circles to circles and squares to squares.

A few miles away, at the city Health Department's Delgado Clinic on North Rampart Street, Connie Daniels logged on to the Internet, entered an address in the Web browser, typed in a password and after a few tries, was rewarded with a color photograph of Nichols' classroom, where her son, Marcel, 3, spends his days.

The still image came courtesy of a video camera perched high in a corner of Marcel's classroom and an Atlanta- based Internet monitoring service called KinderCam. Similar cameras have been installed in other classrooms and common areas in the center, enabling parents who have signed up for the service to see their children at work or at play anytime during the day.

For Daniels, the program administrator for the health department's Lead Poisoning Prevention Program, the ability to peek in on her son without leaving work provides relief from the anxiety she sometimes feels when she's away from her child.

"I like it because Marcel has asthma and I'll be able to check in and see how he's doing, whether he's got his head down, or if he's sitting up or active."

She couldn't see her son's face in the slightly blurry image, but the sight of him working at the table was reassuring, Daniels said.

"He's sitting there, doing what he's supposed to do, and he looks fine."

Hundreds of child-care centers around the country are being equipped with video cameras provided by companies such as KinderCam (, which installed the first such system in the New Orleans area this fall at the Kidz Klubhouse, a new day-care center in Slidell.

"Parents, whether they choose to work or have to work are experiencing the same things when they have to leave a child in a facility: anxiety, concern for the child and guilt," said Anthony Sparrow, KinderCam's executive vice president of sales.

"It's not that parents don't have a lot of confidence in their child-care facility, it's that parents want to stay connected with the child's development, even when they're not there.

"Almost every child-care facility I've been in has an open-door policy anyway. Any parent can come in at anytime. We view (Web cameras) as an extension of a center's open-door policy, not as an intrusive tool at all. It's a communication tool between the parent, the center and the child."

These systems enable parents to log on to the monitoring company's Web site and, after entering a password, view the rooms that their children use at the day-care centers. Parents have access only to the rooms in which their children spend time, so a parent of an infant, for instance, would have access to the nursery, but not the toddler room. Parents also can view common areas such as the lunchroom and playground.

Linda McMillian, owner of McMillian's First Steps, said response to the system so far has been overwhelmingly positive. The center in November moved into a newly renovated, more spacious facility on North Claiborne Avenue, a few blocks from its previous location. She saw the Web monitoring system as an extra selling point in a very competitive market.

"It gives us an edge. Parents love the idea of being able to log in to see their children, especially our working parents who can't take advantage of our open-door policy," McMillian said.

Douglas M. McCabe, professor of labor relations, human resource management and organizational behavior at Georgetown University's school of business, sees such Web cameras as a piece of another trend.

"This trend is part and parcel of a larger trend in American business and industry, which is the issue of employee surveillance," McCabe said.

"It's not just an issue of parents wanting to see their children, but of parents wanting to make sure their children are being treated well. If day-care centers were to install video cameras, it would be incumbent on them to inform all of the employees that monitoring was going to occur. I would not want to see the use of hidden cameras."

McMillian and Jean said staff members are fully aware of the video cameras and have expressed no concerns.

"I always stress to my staff that they have to be ready for change," McMillian said.

Nichols, the center's prekindergarten teacher at McMillian's First Steps, said she is hardly aware of the camera that is always focused on her classroom.

"We have our daily activities and as long as we're doing what we're supposed to be doing, things are fine. We're doing what we always do, but now it's going online."

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