Day-Care Centers Look To Security

Aug 14, 2007 3:30 PM

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Biometrics is being used in at least two Broward County day-care centers, reports the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

"Parents love it," says Renee Johnson, district manager of Tutor Time Child Care, which uses the biometric system in its centers in Pembroke Pines and Plantation, Fla. "The parents say, 'This is technology beyond belief.' When we get phone call inquiries or give tours, the biggest question parents ask, 'Is my child safe?'"

Security is a growing concern at day-care centers, which confront issues ranging from custody disputes to the threat of child abductions and terrorism. Today, many day-care centers monitor or restrict access to their buildings by using digital keypads or swipe cards, door buzzers and surveillance cameras, features rarely seen a decade ago.

"Security at a day-care center is paramount," says Geoff Still, director of finance and operations at the Mailman Segal Institute for Early Childhood Studies, which operates two preschools and an infant-toddler program at Nova Southeastern University. "Ten years ago, parents might have looked at which day care had the best playground equipment or the friendliest teachers. That has changed. The trend is going to be a more personalized security system."

"The change is due to the times we live in," Heborah Tyson, director at Aunt D's Child Care Center, told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Aunt D's offers all-day care and drop-in sitter services in Plantation. The center has a surveillance camera and a buzzer at the front door and an alarm on the back door.

"It's not just lackadaisical and everybody trusts each other anymore," Tyson says. "Especially after Sept. 11. It's gotten worse since then. Nothing is taken for granted."

At the Jack & Jill Children's Center in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., a growing number of child custody disputes have spilled over into the center, which requires a photo identification each time a parent picks up a child. It also uses surveillance cameras and door buzzers.

"We've definitely seen more custody disputes where we're caught in the middle of it," says program director Shannon Prohaszka. "We take the extra minutes to check the IDs to make sure we're not releasing that child to anyone who's not on the authorized list. Parents get frustrated, but we're just being as thorough as possible."

At Tutor Time, a parent's fingerprint is scanned and then converted into a series of numbers, equivalent to a bar code. That number is assigned to a child, providing access to the parent or guardian. To enter the building, the parent enters a digital code into a keypad and then places a finger on a sensor by the front door. If the system finds a match, it triggers the mechanism to unlock the front door. Rather than storing an actual set of fingerprints, which raises privacy concerns, the biometric system creates a number of key identifiers.

But for many centers, cost is a barrier to such a system. And the biometric system, which is used for security at some airports, is not foolproof. During busy drop-off or pick-up times, for instance, parents are likely to hold open the door for someone coming in behind them.

"It's a new high-tech system, which is a [plus] to your younger, computer-savvy parents. At the same time, we saw some pitfalls," Still says. "What do you do when the power is off, or the system is not working? Some people don't like the concept yet. They're not comfortable with it."

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