Daniella Khafi, a young mother with two preschool-age children, had her choice of dozens of child-care programs for her son and daughter near the family’s home in the Forest Hills section of Queens.
Khafi says her choice was easy — she placed Yitzchak Chaim and Avigail in separate home-based day care programs, which two Bukharan Jewish sisters have run in adjacent basement-level spaces in Kew Gardens Hills for two decades.
An aunt had sent her young daughter a few years earlier to a similar program in the Family Child Care Network of the Jewish Child Care Association, Khafi said. “We heard wonderful things.”
The Kew Gardens Hills child-care programs run by Mira and Yafa Davidov (they are married to brothers) are among 123 home-based programs in Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island administered by the JCCA. The JCCA trains the providers (training topics include health and safety, children’s psychological needs and curriculum development), supervises them regularly during the year (supervisors check if the area is clean, if the kids are getting along, if the providers are reaching their educational goals), matches interested families with available providers, offers remedial training sessions and provides monthly calendars and activities suggestions.
Some 1,000 children, ages 6 weeks to 5 years old, are enrolled in the programs, which offer a combination of supervised play and informal education.
Most of the participants in the network, both parents and providers, are Jewish. Most are from émigré families, like the Davidov sisters: from the former Soviet Union, Israel and other countries. JCCA, which is marking the 50th anniversary of the network, has begun a campaign to attract more American-born participants.
The network, which JCCA calls “the only … Family Child Care program … in the UJA-[Federation] network,” offers parents a familiar, Jewish setting into which to place their children. The providers usually charge less than day care centers and other institutions.
The network offers an opportunity for providers’ families to bring in some supplementary income, usually in the range of $20,000-$40,000 per year.
“The provider is not going to price herself out,” said Sandy Katz, JSSA director of early childhood programs. (Most of the providers are women.)
The network began in 1953 with 15 children from low-income families in Brooklyn, geared for “working Jewish mothers,” said Debby Perelmuter, JCCA vice president for services to the Jewish community. She says the home-based day care network was formed as a way to “protect [parents] from unsupervised programs. This did not exist then in New York City. We started the first model.
“Jewish families,” she said, “are always looking for good, affordable, Jewish daycare.”
Perelmuter says about 40 percent of the participating families are eligible for city subsidies.
Providers are considered independent contractors; they are licensed by the state office of Children and Family Services, and monitored by the New York City Department of Health’s Bureau of Day Care.
“It’s typically more affordable than a large center,” Katz says. “It’s a little more individualized. There’s a little more of a family connection” than in a standard day care program. “It’s people they know.”
Recommendations largely come by word-of-mouth; participating families and providers typically live in the same communities as one another.
For the kids who spend up to 10 hours a day in the programs that are part of the JCCA network, it’s literally a home away from home.
The Davidov sisters, who established their day care programs in converted garages of their families’ homes on a Kew Gardens Hills side street, have set up matching, brightly lit environments where their charges learn about Shabbat and Jewish holidays, sing Jewish songs, do arts and crafts, and pick up some words in Hebrew or Yiddish.
Which is just what Daniella and Daniel Khifa wanted. “I wanted my kids to know the brochas [Hebrew blessings] and the Alef-Bais,” Daniella said. “I wanted the kids to have a Jewish feeling.”
During the day the kids nap on cots and get kosher meals provided by the sisters and their assistants.
Born in Uzbekistan, the sisters moved to Israel, married, worked for a while, came to the United States, then learned about the JCCA training program.
For Mira, who had worked as an assistant in an Israeli kindergarten, it was a natural career path. “I love children,” she says. She told her sister, who came to the United States a few years later, about the opportunity to work with kids and bring in some extra money. “I showed her how to do it,” Mira said.
Yafa says she knows of some mothers who spent their early years in a JCCA home-based daycare program and now send their own kids to one.
Daniella Khifa says her children — Yitzchak Chaim is now 3; Avigail, 2 — “are smiling when they come out” at the end of the day.
“It’s been a great experience,” she said. “It’s affordable. It provides us with a way of going to work.”
She said she’s told her brother and sister-in-law, who are now weighing day care choices, about the JCCA network. “We recommend it to everyone.”
For information about the JCCA Family Child Care Network, contact Sandy Katz at (718) 575-7046.