Noe Valley Voice April 2005

Children's Council: It All Began in a Shoebox

By Phyllis Mason

On my lunch hour one day, I took the J-Church from 16th and Church, where I work, to 24th Street for a little shopping. I made my usual stops at Cover to Cover, Rabat, and Ambiance, and couldn't help but notice all the baby carriages and tots darting between passersby. There are a lot of young children in Noe Valley, I thought to myself. I wonder if their parents know about the free childcare resource nearby.

That's the sort of question that would logically come to my mind, since I happen to work at the Children's Council of San Francisco. Among other things, the Children's Council connects parents with childcare providers in every neighborhood in the city. Our database of more than 700 providers includes 19 professionally trained licensed caregivers in Noe Valley. There are centers for large groups of children as well as home-based providers who care for a small number of children. Five providers in the neighborhood are licensed to care for infants. Two speak Spanish, and two speak Chinese.

In fact, the Children's Council was born right here in the neighborhood. Thirty-four years ago, a group of young Noe Valley mothers got together to organize playgroups for their preschool-age children. The informal parent group was organized by Patty Siegel (who is now executive director of the California Child Care Resource and Referral Network and a nationally recognized authority on childcare).

Soon, mothers from all over the city were calling Patty's Sanchez Street home, where a shoebox with names and addresses was kept. Many of these mothers were seeking more than playgroups. They were looking for full- or part-time childcare, so they could go to work. The shoebox soon grew into a directory, and the parent co-op became a more structured organization called the Childcare Switchboard.

Fast forward to 2005: The Switchboard, known for the past 30 years as the Children's Council, now employs 125, and has found a permanent home in the Noe Valley/Castro area. After spending 12 years in various locations downtown, in 2001 we moved into the former offices of the Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco (next door to Mission Dolores School), on Church Street near 16th Street.

Experienced counselors are on call to give advice to those who drop in or telephone. They help parents and caregivers assess their childcare needs, answer questions about different types of available childcare, and help individuals access the database of providers.

In addition to the referral services, the Children's Council maintains a resource room containing a wealth of printed information about childcare and parenting: guidebooks, newsletters, child health and safety brochures, listings of community resources for families and kids, and much more. It also operates a lending library with age-appropriate toys, books, and audio- and videotapes. Finally, the Children's Council conducts evening workshops on "Choosing Child Care," which offer parents useful guidelines for interviewing and selecting a provider who is right for them.

All of the Children's Council's services are free or (as in the case of the lending library) available at minimal cost. Not even the sidewalk sales on 24th Street can offer a deal like that!

For more information, people should call 415-343-3300, stop by our office at 445 Church Street, or visit our web site:

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The Noe Valley Voice welcomes submissions of first-person essays. Mail manuscripts to Bylines, Noe Valley Voice, 1021 Sanchez Street, San Francisco, CA 94114; or send an e-mail to bylines@noevalley Please include your name, address, and phone number.