July 17, 2000 (New York) -- As the new CBS television program "Big Brother" grows in popularity, parents across the country may be tuning into another reality-based show -- their child's day care classroom.
Web cameras are now in place in day care centers across the country. At some day care facilities, parents can get a password that allows them to go online anytime and observe their child as he or she learns, naps, and interacts with others. Parents can even send e-mails directly to the classroom. While some parents are thrilled that they can now log on and see what their children are doing throughout the day, the new technology also raises some ethical concerns, such as security and who has access to the web site.
"Like a lot of net-based things, security and access may be issues because you wouldn't want strangers observing your children in day care," says John Lantos, MD, an associate director of the McLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics at the University of Chicago in Chicago.
Most people in the industry insist that the technology is safe and that all information is encrypted to keep "strangers" out.
This new trend "is part of the nation's fascination with putting anything on the Web," Lantos tells WebMD. "Most parents may quickly become bored watching their children take naps," he says. "I guess this will play itself out as net-accessible day care centers, non-net accessible day care centers, and parents and teachers can sort out what they want based on personal preferences," he adds.
Some teachers may like that parents have access to their classroom, while others may feel it infringes on their ability to teach, he adds. But for the growing number of dual income families where both mom and dad work away from home, the need to feel connected to children while at work certainly has its advantages.
"The common thread is that it allows parents to stay connected to their children when they are away from them," says Anthony Sparrow, executive vice president of sales and marketing of Parent Net, Inc., and Kindercam of Atlanta. Kindercam has installed 53 web cams in day care centers spanning 15 states.
Also a father, Sparrow says he used to feel detached from what his child did all day long. Not anymore. "Now parents can go to work, tap in, and see what their child is doing today, that they are happy, well cared-for, and being developed," he tells WebMD. "This way, parents can lead the conversation when they talk to their kids later by asking 'did you have circle time today?' or 'did you work on your ABCs?'" he says.
The onslaught of media coverage about the former British au pair Louise Woodward, who was accused of killing an infant after he was fatally injured while in her care, has called attention to the need for tighter security and surveillance at day care facilities and during home care.
But, Sparrow insists, while web cameras are not watchdog systems, they could offer this side benefit, he says.
However, "in most facilities, teachers end up liking the system because they now get recognition," he says. "Teachers often don't get enough contact with parents, and this technology helps keep parents involved in child development."
Web cameras have been in place at the Cambridge Prep School on Jacksonville, Fla., since it opened two years ago.
"We love it and the parents love it," says owner Eve Kratsaf. "Parents and even grandparents can send emails to the center and can stay in touch while they are at work," she tells WebMD. "This way, parents are part of their child's day and can talk about the particulars with them at night."