Child Care Brightens Golden Years

Times Staff Writer

The elderly gentleman in the photo was all smiles. He wore a dress shirt and slacks, and his sport jacket was neatly buttoned at the waist. He was surrounded by a handful of gleeful children in Halloween costumes.

The man is a resident of a Fargo, N.D., nursing home for the aging that has an affiliated child-care facility--and the only time the home’s staff can persuade him to get dressed is when the children are around.

Group’s Annual Meeting

The anecdote was typical of those recounted during a panel, “Young and Old Together: Child Care in Homes for the Aging,” one of the programs last week during the American Assn. of Homes for the Aging’s 24th annual meeting in Los Angeles.


Meanwhile in Norwalk, the Southland Lutheran Home and Geriatric Center is adjacent to a child-care center. The home provides the building but does not run the child-care facility, said the Rev. Gilbert Moore, executive director of the geriatric center. But, he said, the children pop in to visit and to put on an occasional program.

Even minimal contact--simply viewing youngsters on a playground--can be beneficial to the elderly, panelists at the association’s presentation agreed.

Speakers From Across U.S.

Unanimously enthusiastic about the notion of child care in facilities for the aging were speakers Carol Hegeman, principal investigator, Foundation for Long Term Care Inc., Albany, N.Y.; Loraine D. Campbell, director of personnel and admissions, Kendal-Crosslands, Kennett Square, Pa., and Nancy Farnham, Villa Maria Health Center, Fargo, N.D.


Frank D. Bullock, director of United Methodist Homes of New Jersey, Neptune, N.J., moderated the panel and began by introducing Hegeman, who has conducted extensive research on child care in homes for the aging, as first speaker.

“In my case my personal interest dovetailed with my professional interest,” Hegeman said. “I brought my son to see my grandfather in a nursing home and I saw the whole thing happen--the instant rapport between the two, both faces lighting up, the love between them.

“An intergenerational program is a huge rainbow. After all, a 3-year-old cutting with scissors is not very different from an 83-year-old with arthritis cutting with scissors.

“At one facility I found in my research there was a visiting program. The children walked over from an off-site facility with their brown bags to have lunch with the seniors--and it was just so nice.


Hegeman said child care in nursing homes offers “a smorgasbord of options.” A study of 51 nursing homes with child care disclosed that 71% were day-care programs, 15% were nursery school on a half-day basis and that 14% were off-site programs with some care at the nursing home.

Some dealt with infants through 5-year-olds, others with toddlers and those through 10. Some involved hands-on care of children by the elderly; some provided only glimpses of the children through windows overlooking a playground; others included contact, such as the seniors reading to the youngsters.

“With infant-only day care there is no way the elderly cannot be helpful,” Hegeman said. “There is no way you can have too many laps for 15 screaming babies.”

Employees Benefit


In addition to the therapeutic effects the children seem to have for many of the older people, on-site child care can be a major benefit for nursing home employees--and a factor in retaining personnel.

“We opened our child-care center in 1980,” said Farnham, coordinator of the rehabilitation department at Villa Maria in Fargo, “primarily to enrich the lives of the residents through exposure to children, We saw it work first with visitors’ children. It would take a half hour from the front door to the room of the person to be visited because everybody would stop to say hello to the children.

“Our motivation was the residents, to maximize their environment. It made the place much less institutional.

“But as an employee benefit, we found the employee is happier, more relaxed. She returns to work sooner after maternity leave, can nurse her baby, visit the child at lunch and reduce the number of calls to baby sitters.”


Hegeman also spoke of nursing homes in which child-care programs operate seven days a week, 24 hours a day. At one, a hospital reserves 25 beds for nurses’ children whose mothers are called in to work at night, an arrangement that also benefits the child-care facility by providing financial stability.

Farnham said that at Villa Maria, which is operated by Lutheran Hospitals and Homes Society, administrators found that many of the elderly preferred to have the children visit them in their rooms rather than to see them in an activities area: “Residents like to be on their own turf.”

Loraine Campbell said that some residents of Kendal-Crosslands, a continuing-care residence, were unhappy at the idea of starting a child-care center there.

“We had a trial program for one year,” Campbell said. “We found that the residents who had opposed the child-care center were afraid a year later that we were taking it away. We have had an excellent experience with our day-care program.”


Industry Regulations

The speakers noted that if nursing homes are the most regulated industry, the next most regulated is child care. They were frank about problems of financing and staffing, and Farnham passed out a 24-point checklist for child care planning to the audience of nursing home professionals. One suggestion was that in certain cases part of the cost of the child-care program may be charged as an employee benefit; another was that the law varies in almost every state.

“We had some problems. Some of the elderly residents had views that girls don’t play with trucks and boys don’t cry. These people raised their children 60 years ago. So you have to train your staff, teach them how to intervene . . .

“There was a fear that the children would bring illness into the nursing home but that has not proved to be the case. An accident was the next great bugaboo but there has never been an accident. In any well-run child-care facility you do not have kids running through the halls.”


In one case, Farnham said, an unused laundry space was converted into room for child care--and funding for that space was deleted by the governmental agency helping finance the nursing home.

“The governmental authorities said child care was not a residential activity,” she said. “They were willing to pay for unused laundry space but not for child care.”