Family Child Care Providers: Bridging the Gap in Early Education

BY Luisa Muñoz

Aug 31 2023

In the changemakers series, we will tell the stories of these organizations and their impact in the neighborhoods they serve.

Synergy for Early Education

High-quality early education programs connect young children to essential learning and support and enable families and caregivers to remain in the workforce. Yet today, parents encounter daunting waitlists and severe staffing shortages as the industry – which was already grossly underpaid – struggles to recover from the pandemic.

So, what’s it going to take to address this urgent issue in the region? Turahn Dorsey – Chief Impact Officer at Eastern Bank Foundation, stresses that without a shared civic agreement on early education and out-of-school time as public goods, the sector remains in a vague space between the public and private domains. Dorsey passionately expressed “It will take community folks, some private sector folks and non-profit folks to keep doing the invention and co-investing until we get to the place where we have created the container that we want for full public investment."

That’s happening in the City of Boston, where city leaders and the non-profit sector, with United Way at the forefront, have joined forces to enhance the accessibility, quality, and affordability of early education. Initiatives like the Childcare Entrepreneur Fund, Shared Services MA program, and the Universal Pre-K program- recognizing the critical role Family Child Care providers can play in increasing high-quality early education seats for families in the city- demonstrate their commitment to closing the child care gap.

Enhancing Child Care Seat Availability

In 2018, United Way launched Shared Services MA, an innovative economic development program to enhance the long-term viability of the early education sector, with the fundamental goal of stabilizing and growing the family child care (FCC) industry in Massachusetts and build the wealth and business success of family child care business owner/educators. The program targets Black and Latina women serving low-income children and aligns with Boston's Office of Early Childhood's mission of providing universal, affordable, high-quality early education and care for all infants, toddlers, and children under five.

Despite their expertise in early childhood pedagogy, most FCC providers are educators or caretakers -not entrepreneurs - and they often have not been exposed to or trained in the business skills needed to run their child care businesses most effectively. To support FCC providers as entrepreneurs, United Way’s Shared Services MA program takes a multifaceted approach:

  1. Licensing Support Course: Guiding individuals through the process of obtaining their child care program license from the Mass. Department of Early Education and Care (EEC), in partnership with the City of Boston's Office of Early Childhood.
    1. Business and Marketing Workshops: FCC entrepreneurs can apply for the City of Boston’s Childcare Entrepreneur Fund which awards educators a $3,500 grant and business support through virtual bilingual training in business and marketing, emphasizing on technology skills. Funds are disbursed after the conclusion of the workshop series. Startup grants are for new and existing family child care businesses.
      1. DRIVE ASQ Support Course: Equipping FCC entrepreneurs with tools for developmental screenings and early intervention, ensuring children under their care are well-prepared for school.

        Addressing FCC entrepreneurs' specific needs through these three professional development tracks, Shared Services MA bridges the gap between early childhood education expertise and entrepreneurial skills. To date, Shared Services MA has trained over 1,000 FCC educators throughout MA on business best practices, funded by partners like the Boston Office of Early Childhood, EEC, and private philanthropy such as PNC Bank. Over 1,700 early educators across the state are currently taking advantage of the free membership to the Shared Service MA web platform to access over 2,600 innovative and practical tools and resources on essential topics such as financial management, human resource supports, emergency preparedness, marketing, nutrition, health, and safety, and more.

        The Economic Impact of the Family Child Care Entrepreneurs

        FCC entrepreneurs play a critical role in the states’ economy, offering safe and affordable quality child care. This enables parents to work with peace of mind, leading to increased productivity and a sustainable labor market in Massachusetts. Additionally, affordable child care supports parents in pursuing further education or job training, ultimately resulting in higher lifetime earnings. On a pragmatic level, parents can’t work if they do not have child care, what makes educators essential for the economy to work.

        Cribs and Cradles Family Child Care. Dorchester, Ma.

        Recognizing the critical importance of early childhood development, the City of Boston prioritizes it through the Universal Pre-K (UPK) model. UPK ensures every child's access to high-quality education for children aged three and four, regardless of socio-economic background. The UPK portfolio includes three settings: Boston Public Schools, community-based entrepreneurs, and recently family child care entrepreneurs, all funded by the City of Boston at no cost to families.

        Boston UPK recently announced it is inviting FCC entrepreneurs to apply as partners, receiving funding from the city to expand high-quality, free preschool opportunities for families. Family child care entrepreneurs offer families flexible hours, multilingual or mixed-age settings, and often more affordable services. The combined efforts of UPK and FCC entrepreneurs contribute significantly to the city's economic growth and the well-being of its workforce.

        Champions of Early Education

        “I am excited about the integration of UPK into FCC programs. This is the boost that FCC entrepreneurs need to highlight that we are not babysitters but educators,” said Claudette White, a family child care educator. “We are business owners and educators that manage high-quality early education programs.”

        Claudette, originally from Montserrat, a Caribbean Island, moved to Puerto Rico when she was 12 years old, where she learned Spanish and worked as a nanny for three years after graduating from high school. She decided to move to Boston, following her mother and younger siblings. Being the second of eight siblings in a big family, she had a natural affinity for kids. She worked at the John Hancock Conference Center as a front office manager and earned a two-year degree as an Administration Assistant at Katherine Gibbs.

        Claudette White, Cribs and Cradles Family Child Care owner. Claudette is currently part of the Share Services MA program, as a trainer and mentor in the Share Services MA program, guiding new educators to achieve their business goals.

        Claudette's passion for children, coupled with her sister-in-law's proposal, prompted her to leave her job. Her sister-in-law, who worked in a center-based program, suggested they collaborate in child care, and Claudette gladly accepted the opportunity. However, after Claudette left her job, her sister-in-law eventually stepped back, leaving her to handle the venture independently. In need of assistance, Claudette's sister came to work with her. Taking advantage of the training provided by Project Hope's Family Childcare program, Claudette launched her own business in 2006 in Dorchester, MA. Today, after 17 years of dedication, Cribs and Cradles Family Child Care has 10 full-time kids, the maximum capacity allowed by the EEC license.

        When Claudette started, she found herself navigating everything alone without any guidance or clear direction on how to achieve her business goals. “The United Way program and Shared Services website are incredibly valuable for FCC entrepreneurs. They offer a structured pathway to obtain a license and provide an excellent resource hub geared only for us, our needs, our families, and the children that we serve, instilling a sense of security and confidence,” said White.

        Throughout her FCC journey, she received support from Project Hope, applied for and received two grants from the City of Boston's Childcare Entrepreneur Fund and got business support through the business and marketing workshops from United Way's Share services program. “In these workshops, I learned valuable skills in business management, including creating a business plan, financial management, and tax handling," said White. "Web development in the marketing workshop has been one of the most powerful tools for running my business. It taught me how to design, track, and update it effectively, and also provided insights on marketing the website through social media."

        "The United Way program and shared services website are incredibly valuable for FCC entrepreneurs. They offer a structured pathway to obtain a license and provide an excellent resource hub geared only for us, our needs, our families, and the children that we serve, instilling a sense of security and confidence."
        Claudette White, Cribs and Cradles Family Child care owner
        Claudette White at the United Way’s Shared Services Marketing graduation.

        When Claudette started her business, she discovered a competitive family child care community that was hesitant to share knowledge and methods. Claudette strongly believes FCC educators need to work together to achieve collective prosperity. “Despite the challenges, I find this job incredibly rewarding, and it's worth pursuing if it aligns with your passion and aspirations,” said White.

        Claudette is currently part of the Shared Services MA program as a trainer and mentor, guiding new educators to achieve their business goals. Drawing from her own experiences, she aspires to be the guide she never had during her early journey. Her advice to those considering becoming FCC entrepreneurs is to begin by exploring the shared services website and connecting with someone already established in the profession.

        "In these workshops, I learned valuable skills in business management, including creating a business plan, financial management, and tax handling. The program's website has been one of the most powerful tools for running my business."
        Claudette White

        Dorothy Williams’ story unfolds in the child care landscape, where she has also accomplished remarkable feats to improve Massachusetts’ system of early education and care.

        Initially, Dorothy decided to pursue the family child care path to be closer to her daughter during her high school years, seeking a better work-life balance than her previous job offered. Little did she know that her decision to open a child care facility in 2008 would become her life’s work. The love and dedication she poured into nurturing and educating young minds transformed her venture into a profound and meaningful journey, one she now cherishes as her greatest accomplishment.

        “Family child care is extremely important to me because over the years it's been treated like a stepchild. However, I feel as though the pandemic showed a light on how we are viable, important, and essential. And so, I feel as though that family child care should be able to be brought to the table and be a part of making decisions for our industry,” said Williams.

        Dorothy Williams, Theodore Jones and Carla Combs. Dottie’s Family Child Care staff.

        After her daughter's high school years, her aspiration was to return to her previous role in human resources, getting back to what she had been doing before. However, life had different plans in store, and she ended up caring for 10 kids at her very own business, Dottie's Family Child Care. “I was an HR director. I had a lot of transferable skills because of the training and the development I had to do with adults. It is the same thing when dealing with children, but the difference is you get a clean slate and can help them grow, which is the magic of this. So here I am, 16 years later," said Williams.

        Over the span of sixteen years, her career in early childhood education advanced through significant milestones from earning an associate degree in general business from Massachusetts Bay Community College in 1980 to pursuing a Ph.D. in Early Childhood Education and Care at UMASS Boston, focusing on research, policy development, and innovative practices to transform opportunities and outcomes for young children.

        Leaving a Legacy in Child Care

        As Dottie's Family Child Care has experienced remarkable growth, Dorothy has gone beyond the standard staff requirements, opting for a volunteer and two additional team members, allowing her to provide the personalized attention that has become synonymous with her child care center. As she expressed, “Every child deserves special attention, and every child also has different needs. It's essential to be prepared for that.”

        "Every child deserves special attention, and every child also has different needs. It's essential to be prepared for that."
        Dorothy Williams, Dottie's Family Child care owner

        Her unwavering passion and dedication for the children of the city fueled her drive to create a lasting impact, becoming an advocate for the vital role of FCC educators in early childhood education. As she proudly shared, "I just became a universal pre-kindergarten-educator for Boston, a major achievement. In addition, I am the president of the Massachusetts Association for the Education of Young Children (MAAEYC) and am excited for this platform to advocate for children."

        As an advocate, Dorothy firmly believes in supporting family child care, acknowledging the dedication of those who work tirelessly for the love and joy of the job, even without proper compensation. “Now it's time for people to look at what we do and how we do it because we're getting people ready for the Boston public schools and other schools, and we need to be recognized for that important work,” said Williams.

        "Now it's time for people to look at what we do and how we do it because we're getting people ready for the Boston public schools and other schools, and we need to be recognized that we are the gatekeepers."
        Dorothy Williams, Dottie's Family Child care owner

        Her primary concern is the lack of consistency in salaries and benefits in the child care industry, “there is no such thing as a 401K; we’re lucky to get sick days, and there's no vacation time unless you have private children. While we have made progress with the Family Medical Leave Act, obtaining affordable health insurance remains a barrier,” said Williams.

        The challenges don't end there; budgets are unpredictable due to fluctuating enrollment, making planning and marketing essential for sustainability. “It’s not like the city is saying, I'm going to automatically pay you for five slots even though your license is for ten, that's not done, so it's not like I have a baseline that I can count on it when it comes to budgeting because one minute, I may have a child the next minute I may not,” said Williams.

        Being fully aware of the ever-changing landscape in child care and the evolving educational practices, she remains dedicated to staying up to date. She chose to enroll in the United Way's Shared Services program focused on marketing and business for the FCC entrepreneurs right before the pandemic. It allowed her to explore marketing strategies and develop a website, resources which were previously unavailable to her. Her commitment to continuous learning demonstrates her unwavering dedication to providing the best possible care and enriching educational experiences for the children under her guidance. “It was a practical program that allowed us to look at ourselves as true entrepreneurs, not just community people providing a service. It's been tremendous help,” said Williams, “I think strategically, it afforded me the opportunity to survive during the pandemic where a lot of my counterparts did not. And I really do believe that I owe that to good fiscal management and having systems in place.”

        Claudette and Dorothy's entrepreneurial spirit and steadfast dedication to early childhood education continue to leave an indelible mark on the community. Their legacy stands as a tribute to the transformative power of dedicated educators and the profound impact they have on the lives of children and families. Among the 8,307-family child care home-based entrepreneurs in Massachusetts, they shine as exemplars of passion and commitment.

        Dorothy Williams at the United Way’s Shared Services Marketing graduation.

        Amplifying the voices of these educators and sharing their remarkable contributions is a critical part of United Way’s goal of ensuring equitable access to quality, affordable child care. FCC entrepreneurs like Dorothy and Claudette are much more than caretakers; they are mentors and role models, empowering young minds with love and knowledge. As Williams passionately expressed, “it’s not about the money; it’s about providing young lives with the chance to thrive, not just survive”.

        Join us in celebrating and advocating for the invaluable role these educators play in shaping the future of our children and contributing to thriving communities. Be a part of the dialogue within your community, highlighting how the comprehensive assistance of Shared Services MA empowers FCC entrepreneurs to deliver high-quality care and education while building strong and sustainable businesses.

        Learn more here https://www.sharedservicesma.org/

        We are grateful for our partners and funders of this work including: The Boston Foundation, Boston Opportunity Agenda, Boston Children’s Hospital, PNC Bank, and the City of Boston -Department of Early Education and Care (EEC).