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Turning Point

The case against British au pair Louise Woodward raised concerns about our nation's child-care services. Can small business calm the storm?

In the aftermath of the now-infamous nanny trial, child care has attracted the nation's attention. The focus is understandable: According to the Children's Defense Fund, 13 million U.S. children spend part of every day being cared for by someone other than a parent. And most of these kids enter nonparental care by 3 months of age, are cared for an average of 30 hours per week, and usually remain in such an arrangement until they start school.

All this has led to the boom of an industry that's woven itself tightly into the social fabric of American life and captivated entrepreneurs--from day-care operators to in-home child-care providers. But while studies have uncovered problems with child care, the issue waned somewhat until Louise Woodward hit the headlines, bringing to the surface parents' worst nightmares.

"[The case] made parents think about what they're doing," says Nancy Adler Manket, co-founder with Marcia Zaiac Wasser of Interactive Family Management, a Watchung, New Jersey, company that provides services and products related to child care and other family management issues. "We don't think the only solution is to stay home; parents don't have that luxury. But we think it's good there has been greater attention [paid] to how to get quality child care. There are, in fact, things you can do to ensure your child is receiving good care."

Today, quality is key. What might have at first seemed like negative publicity for the industry has actually helped some entrepreneurs, including Zaiac Wasser and Adler Manket. Last year, the partners launched The Nanny Training Program, an interactive kit designed to heighten parents' confidence, improve the selection of child-care providers and manage caregivers. Its workbook asks potential caregivers for responses to hypothetical situations; a video details the challenges and safety issues that arise when caring for kids. It's all about quality care, and parents are snapping up the workbook and video by the hundreds.

Zaiac Wasser and Adler Manket insist irresponsible caregivers are the exception, not the rule. But companies that intend to survive are responding to the magnified parental anxiety--by thoroughly checking references, providing training and giving psychological tests to potential caregivers.

"I don't think it's hurt the industry," contends Zaiac Wasser. "It's redefining [it]. The bar has been raised for better quality and better teamwork between the [caregivers] and the parents."

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This article was originally published in the April 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Turning Point.

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