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an Electronic Eye on the Kids
The Washington Post
Young checks on her son at his day-care center by using
her office computer.
was bursting with excitement yesterday as she showed envious co-workers
the picture of her 2-year-old son, Gates, sitting on a swing.
no framed photo on a desk. The image of Gates was flickering on
the screen of her office computer in downtown Washington
and he was taking his swing ride at that very moment at a Fairfax
City day-care center 15 miles away.
A few minutes
later, Gates popped up on his mother's computer again, stacking
blocks in the playroom. And soon after that, she watched him eating
some melon. A digital clock on the screen told her that the photo
had just been snapped. "How wicked cool is this?"
said Young, 36, president of a D.C. marketing firm. "I can
see my guy! He's having a snack. Could this be much faster? We're
only two or three seconds behind."
a handful of other parents with children in the same day-care
center were the first Washington area workers to get such a clear
view of their children's day, as a camera system that was introduced
1½ years ago made its local debut.
child-care facilities across the country are using the "kiddie
cams," which are being marketed as a way to alleviate working
parents' concerns about the care and safety of their children.
Cameras are placed in the rooms where youngsters play or sleep,
and parents pay an extra fee to access the images over the Internet.
of Gates's day-care, Little Oxford House Early Learning Center,
decided to purchase the system "to give parents peace of
mind" about their children's activities, said Fatima Adnan,
the facility's administrator. The center charges parents $20 a
month for the special software, which is similar to what other
parents across the country are paying for the service.
is worth it, although the urge to see little Johnny's face does
wane over time, according to several parents who have been using
the system for several weeks.
need to check in all the time now because I know the opportunity
is there," said Mary Ann Hendry, 31, whose 7-month-old boy
attends Healthy Environment, a Wilmington, Del., day-care center
that installed the cameras in February.
tend to make parents feel better about their child's center on
many levels, day-care providers say.
like parents are more open to talk to us about things," said
Gwen Lacy, director of Healthy Environment. "They actually
can see things that are going on, so it gives them something to
talk about. They can say, 'Oh, I saw that game you were playing.'"
civil liberties groups have criticized the kiddie cams as an invasion
of child-care workers' privacy. Some child-care specialists also
are skeptical, saying that the cameras provide a false sense of
security and that unannounced personal visits are still the best
way to check up on a day-care center.
"It's really misdirecting
what parents need to be doing to build that relationship with
the people who take care of their children," said Marcy Whitebook,
co-director of the Center for the Child Care Workforce, a nonprofit
group that studies day-care issues. "We're really a gadget
culture, and I don't think that gadgets can solve anything in
of the kiddie-cam system is also at issue. In most systems, parents
go to a Web site and then have to enter a password to see the
photos taken inside the day-care center.
officials at some centers say they don't plan to install the system
because of the risk that people who prey on children might access
the images and learn where a particular child is enrolled.
of how secure the system appears to be, hackers can always get
in," said Mary Ellen Dallman, a regional vice president of
Bright Horizons, a Cambridge, Mass., company that operates 155
day-care centers across the country, including four in the Washington
at KinderCare Learning Centers Inc., which has 1,147 centers nationally
and 32 in the Washington area, also say they are not interested
in kiddie cams.
selling the cameras say that even if a hacker managed to circumvent
the password system, he would not learn any sensitive information
because there are no names of children or day-care centers shown
on the screen.
the systems are growing rapidly, the companies say. Simplex Knowledge
Co. in White Plains, N.Y., maker of the "I See You"
system, is putting in cameras at five day-care centers next month,
including one in Gaithersburg, said Patricia Martin, co-founder
she rarely gets to make unannounced visits to Little Oxford House
because it is so far from her office. And after Gates's debut
on-screen, Young said, she is hooked. She logged on 10 times yesterday
to check on him.
to keep her son's image on the screen during conference calls.
And when she travels out of town on business three or four times
a month with her laptop, Gates will be with her. "That's
when your guilt really kicks in," she said.
43, whose 2-year-old son, Nicholas, attends Little Oxford House,
said he logged on about 20 times yesterday.
my mind, this is what technology really ought to be about,"
said File, a technical consultant. "It's tough enough when
you're leaving a kid at a day-care center. It's nice to be able
to kind of candidly look in to see what's going on."