A WUTC Radio program "Around and About"
"Best Beginnings Early Learning School Open House"
Chattanooga Times Free Press article:
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
By Clint Cooper
Cory is across the city, but every time Lynn Tilley looks down at her computer at Modern Industries she can see her 1-year-old son.
Through her Hixson child-care provider, Best Beginnings, she and her husband have subscribed to WatchMeGrow.com, a streaming video system that allows families to watch their children online.
"It gave me the comfort that I could pop in and check on him whenever I wanted to," said Mrs. Tilley. "It gives you such a peace about where your baby is."
Best Beginnings is one of the few area child-care centers that offer video monitoring, but day-care officials say it's likely a trend that will continue.
"It's not widespread (across the Chattanooga area)," said Emily Perrine, child-care field supervisor in Hamilton and four other counties for the Tennessee Department of Human Services, "but it's the wave of the future as more parents ask for it."
At Best Beginnings, parents pay $25 a month for the service, which offers video privileges for up to four users. There are no contracts, so parents can begin it or end it at any time.
Tina Couch, on-site director, said the center has offered the service since it opened just over two years ago.
"It assures the family of what's happening with their child during the day," she said. "We hear of things going on at some providers that are totally inappropriate. This way, if parents have any question (about their child), they can go and see."
Best Beginnings has 16 cameras, including 10 in classrooms, four in enrichment rooms and one each in the office and in the parking lot.
Mrs. Tilley, 45, said she and her husband, Johnny, researched day-care providers before she was ready to go back to work. She said she selected the Alpha Lane provider, in part, because of the monitoring system.
Not only can she check on Cory -- her only child -- from work, where she has Internet access, but her husband's family five hours away and even the child's "aunt" (a close friend) can check on him from Scotland.
Mrs. Tilley said she keeps the site up on her screen all day, though she constantly has work in front of it.
"I am on there all the time," she said.
In the nearly eight months Cory has been at Best Beginnings, Mrs. Tilley has had only one occasion to pick up the phone and ask what was going on with him.
On that occasion, the first month her son was there, the provider put three children, including her son, in one bed and rolled the bed out of the room, she said.
It turns out, Mrs. Tilley said, the provider was following the procedure of the agency's regularly scheduled fire drill.
On another instance, the day care called her to check out the screen. Cory was taking his first steps.
"They have always said if you see something (you're uncomfortable with), call us," Mrs. Tilley said. "I would have, too, but I have not seen anything. Because when I see something, I address it."
Ms. Perrine said she doesn't see any downside to video monitoring systems and encourages providers to have tools such as windows and one-way mirrors to allow parents to see what's happening in the classroom.
"Most anything that will increase the parents' confidence and trust is a good thing," she said. "When they see that things go like they're told, (that) goes a long way toward making them feel trust toward the person caring for their child."
Ms. Perrine said supervisors encourage providers and caregivers to be as transparent as possible with parents.
"Child care is based on trust," she said. "If there's anything that destroys that trust, it's almost impossible to regain."
When it contracted for its video monitoring system, Best Beginnings also opted for WatchMeGrow.com's optional archiving feature. With that feature, the child care provider can save and store hours and days of video for various purposes.
Though unintentional, one of the purposes turned out to be to help catch a purse snatcher.
"The police were able to view the tape," Ms. Couch said, "and they were able to catch the person who did that. The case is (in the near future) going to the grand jury."
John Lewison, general manager of Lacey, Wash.-based WatchMeGrow.com, said his company writes its own software instead of trying to tweak an off-the-shelf product to fit the niche.
By writing their software, he said, their system is able to allocate the amount of bandwidth to the number of current remote users within its several hundred child care clients.
"That way, we can still provide a great viewing experience," Mr. Lewison said.
He said the software's larger viewing window and streaming rate are also plusses.
When the company began 11 years ago, Mr. Lewison said, the best they could offer customers was a snapshot every 30 seconds. Now, although the streaming is dependent on the provider's Internet connection, the picture is "continuous," he said.
According to a survey of WatchMeGrow users, more than 86 percent selected their child care provider in part because it offers video viewing.
Today, Mr. Lewison said, he believes his is the biggest such company offering Web cameras services to the estimated 100,000 child-care providers across the country.
"We believe we are," he said, "but we don't tout ourselves as the biggest. We're one of the originators of the concept. Some of our worthy competitors have imploded, but we've weathered the storm. We've taken it from concept to a viable and beneficial business product solution, and we continue to plunge ahead."
E-mail Clint Cooper at firstname.lastname@example.org
Click here to view the original article at timesfreepress.com.