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$22,000 per year and a 2 hour commute for a bit of security

The Washington Post published an article today about a new (to us) security system that some local daycares are using to supposedly protect the children from kidnapping or harm. The technology isn’t what caught my attention, but rather some of the numbers stuck out as rather obscene.

The technology is “vein scanning“, which is like reading fingerprints, except it scans the veins on the back of your hand. That’s great, except for guys with hairy hands like my own, but since it’s used in the Middle East, I assume they’ve accounted for hairy hands (I’m not Middle Eastern, but I have Mediterranean ancestry that I have to thank for my gorilla-like hands). But read the following snippits and then do the math with me:

When photographer Nancy Ostertag went back to work in April after giving birth to a son, she enrolled him at Lola’s Place, a private preschool tucked among the wide lanes and neat lawns of Sterling.

Never mind that Ostertag lives in Rockville and works in Bethesda, requiring a nearly two-hour commute each morning and evening. Lola’s Place, she said, was worth fighting traffic for. Its child-care philosophy matches Ostertag’s. Its building is airy, light and clean. And its security system? One of a kind.

“I love the idea that you can’t get in there,” Ostertag said. “You really can’t get in there.”

So Nancy commutes from Rockville, MD to Sterling, VA, drops her child off, then goes BACK to Bethesda, MD for work and repeats it all in the evening. That’s at least 100-120 miles per day, just so she could put her son in a place that looks at the veins on your hand.

Now for the commuting costs. Parents who think like Nancy will also go out and buy a super-sized SUV because they think it’s the ultimate protection on the road for their children. I’m being serious here. That means Nancy probably gets at best 18 mpg on her commute, more likely 15mpg since she’s going against AND with traffic. At an average of $2.50/gallon, she’s spending about $400 per month in gas or $4,800 per year, maybe more if she’s using premium in her premium SUV.

Now let’s look at the cost of the school:

Lola’s Place is part of a family of six Montessori schools in Northern Virginia. It caters to children between 8 weeks and 5 years old, and the cost depends on the child’s age, from $1,850 a month for full-time infant care to $1,450 a month for older toddlers. It has a capacity of 80 students; currently, 24 are enrolled.

“It’s pretty much the Cadillac of day care,” said Jessica Williams, a freelance consultant whose 2-year-old and 3-month-old attend Lola’s Place.

Nancy is sending her infant son to Lola’s Place all day, which means at least $1,850 PER MONTH (are there overtime costs if Nancy can’t get to Sterling in time to pick up her son?). That’s almost as much as our mortgage. That’s $22,200 per year! That’s more than I spent on 4 years of tuition!

So, Nancy is spending at least $27,000 per year so that her son is protected by a vein scanner, and a fingerprint scanner. After just a few years, she could have installed the same security system in her own home. Do you think this is all logical? Not everyone does:

Bruce Schneier, who writes often about security issues and is chief security technology officer at BT, a British telecommunications company, said this sort of convenience accustoms children to surveillance. “We’ve become acclimatized to a lot of security measures that make no sense, that are woven into the fabric of our day,” he said.

“It doesn’t solve a problem that exists. If you start running the math, schools are the safest place for kids,” he said. “But when you think about fear, you don’t do the math. Fear is about stories. You’re playing to perception here.”

I actually have another security system article coming up that speaks to this same “perception and fear” issue, but Bruce is right that some people simply don’t think logically and just go with what sounds safe to them. But I question one thing here, based on my own experience of working in highly-secure federal buildings.

What prevents one careless/polite parent from holding the door open for someone else? It doesn’t sound like Lola’s vein or fingerprint scanners are connected to turnstiles that strictly allow just one person through at a time. If it’s connected to a door, someone will ill-intent only needs to look like a parent, not act suspiciously and tail someone into the facility. People get lax on security when it becomes part of their daily routine. I’ll admit that I even hold the door open, because who wants to slam a door shut (or pull it shut) on someone who could be your next big client? At a daycare, mentality might be different, but not everyone cares about security as the next person.

No matter how tight security is, there’s always some way around it. But if reading your veins makes you feel secure, and makes you drive 4 hours a day, rather than just 1 hour, then so be it. Do what you need to do to feel safe and secure, but always stay vigilant, and pray that those around you are just as security-conscious.

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Clever Dude


  • Obviously security is not the driving(no pun intended) force behind this parent commuting an extra 100-120 miles a day. I am sure that the vein scanning is a nice feature but I have seen a number of other daycare providers have just as strong of security without vein scanning machines. The parent probably just really likes the Day Care. Montessori families are usually a little more “extreme” than others and would probably make the extra commute for the experience and to show others how committed they are to their children.

    Most “good” Day Cares don’t have a lot of turnover in staff and the people watching the children have a good rapport with the parents of the kids and recognize them right away when they come in the door. So my guess is that this Day Care would prefer to invest in a vein scanning device instead of keeping good consistent staff.

  • If it’s safety/security these parents are after, they’re actually subjecting their children to more risk than they’re avoiding which is unfortunate. With the rate of highway fatalities and the thousands of miles per year of unnecessary commute they’re subjecting their children to, they are putting them at a much higher risk of injury/death than any risk a child would face from being “stolen” from a day care center. This is just another case of misinformed people not relying on data and proper risk assessment, but allowing their financial and safety decisions to be governed by media hysteria of a very rare occurrence that makes the national news nonetheless.

    Let’s see – how many children are stolen from a daycare center each year? Probably count on one hand.

    How many children die in auto fatalities each year? Thousands.

    Common sense.

    Oh yeah, and don’t forget the kids’ college tuition they just blew if it had gone toward a 529 instead.

    Great post!

  • And what about the quality of life cost? If this mother is so committed to the best for her child, she needs to be giving the best of herself. And that can’t be done behind the wheel for 2-3 hours/day. There have to be excellent daycare options in the Bethesda and Rockville area. She would then have those precious hours back – and so would her child.

  • I agree – I would hire a nanny. Not only would she have more control over the staff, but she’d have an extra couple of hours to spend with her child, at home, every day. Why would a daycare need vein scanning when they could just have a staff than KNEW and RECOGNIZED the parents. If a daycare needed a security system like this for my son I would think they were a baby farm, not a personable, comfortable place.

    • @Holly, one good thing, though, with vein/fingerprint scanning is that the parent can add/remove authorized people from being able to pick up their kid. If you just have someone who recognizes people, they might not be on top of the do/don’t list and let someone slip by. There’s still always a way around the system, but a computer is objective only (at least as much as the programmer makes it).

  • We felt a group care situation was better for our children than a nanny. And we chose a Montessori school as well, because the program was fabulous. Since we had to have our child cared for while away, I was glad to find a place with such caring folks. Oh, and virtually no turnover during the seven years we were there.

    That said, I agree about the other parents being the weak link. My children had been in a federal daycare with excellent security prior to their Montessori experience. Guess what the biggest security risk was? They never did solve that one.

    Our Montessori school had a very low tech, very effective security system. They simply knew every person associated with the school and were very aware.

  • Wow, this is amazing. We actually just interviewed a nanny today and because we’re comfortable having her bring her baby and toddler with her, we are actually spending $100 less per week for in-home care for our son than we were spending to drop him off at a daycare. Part of this decision was based on not wanting to have my son in the car any more than necessary. (Plus, we live near Chicago, so slogging a carseat, diaper bag, and cooler through the slush twice a day is no picnic.)

    I can’t imagine spending two hours a day, and $22k in tuition for daycare. You could have an au pair who not only watched the child in home but did housework for less than $22k a year. Or better yet, figure out how much the second income is really bringing in after taxes, childcare, transportation, work-related expenses, and lost frugal opportunities (like cooking at home, more time for price comparison, etc.). Then figure out if that small fraction of your paycheck is worth giving up 9+ hours a day with your kids.

  • Not a parent, so take this with a grain of salt if necessary, but are children getting snatched from daycare centers so often that this kind of security is needed? If you have an estranged partner or psycho in-laws or something, I supposed you should worry about someone taking your child from the facility, but I’m *guessing* that random kidnappings are pretty darn rare.

    Yes, make sure the facility is clean, the caregivers are licensed and all of THAT kind of safety stuff, but vein scans and the like? Not so much.

    Of course, I could be talking out of my bum because what do I know? But this seems over the top paranoid, not to mention the insane cost both in time and money.

  • What issue are you worried about here, the cost of daycare, the long hours of commuting in the car, the flaws in the high-tech security system? Sadly, that daycare cost is in line with many other facilities in the D.C. area, it’s on the high side but certainly not the most expensive. The long commute in the car definitely seems excessive, I am certain there are other high quality daycare facilities closer to her home but she found this one and is happy with the care her child receives. Would a nanny be better for her situation? possibly but that’s a decision she needs to make for her family. Kid’s are expensive, and you assume that she drives an SUV because she sends her kid to a pricey daycare? Also, if you read the end of the article she says that she’s moving to Sterling in order to cut down the commuting costs.

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