If Connecticut is to have an engaged and productive workforce it must have reliable childcare. Childcare comes in many different forms, but an increasing number of providers are small, home-based businesses. WNPR’s Harriet Jones reports.
In a tiny condo in Hamden, Lushanna Thompson is allowing her small charges to let off some steam.
“I have a big passion for children. Growing up my Mom had six of us, and I kind of was put in a position where I had to take care of my younger siblings myself. So with that I just said—you know, this is what I have to do.”
Thompson’s home based childcare, Every Child Ahead is one of thousands of similar businesses around the state. She’s licensed by the state to care for and educate up to six children—currently she has two, three and four year olds who attend regularly.
“Personally speaking I think that we’re better than a center, because we have lower ratios, and we can really give a lot of time to a child that may be struggling or you know, that extra hug—you’re not going to see that in a center, there’s too many kids—we can give that.”
Thompson’s business is very typical, according to Jessica Sager, the executive director of All Our Kin, an advocacy group for childcare providers.
“It’s often women, and it’s often women who are already sort of the backbone of their community. They may be mothers, grandmothers, aunts. They’re already caring for children and playing a really key role as community leaders. And so these businesses are an extension of the work they do on behalf of their communities.”
Just over a decade ago, 80 percent of childcare financially supported through the state’s Care4Kids program was provided by family members. Now 50 percent of it is through home-based daycares. Jessica Sager.
“Once a provider becomes licensed, she generates so much more revenue in her business than she did before, so she’s moving out of poverty, her family is getting more opportunities than they had, but she’s also making childcare available to lots and lots of parents who are then able to be successful in the workforce.”
All Our Kin supports childcare providers through the red tape of the licensing procedure. That can involve dealing with the Department of Children and Families, the Department of Public Health, the Department of Education and the Department of Social Services. All our Kin’s Jenna Wagner says while the state’s requirements are onerous they do amount a stepping-stone for providers.
“During that process of licensing, her whole sense of why she’s doing the work, I think starts to change, and she’s also professionalized. So she might start as a babysitter, but over the months of waiting and following up she comes to see herself as an early-childhood educator.”
But this new professionalization is often not rewarded financially.
“What you have is women’s work from women’s work”
State Senator Beth Bye.
“You can’t ever charge more than a mother, or I guess it could be a father if it’s a single father, but it’s usually the mother—more than she makes at work, so there’s this artificial cap on what the businesses, these small family businesses can charge.”
Many parents rely on money from Care4Kids to afford childcare while they work. The program is primarily funded with federal dollars. It provides a portable benefit to families who make less than 75 percent of the state’s median wage. But reimbursement levels have not been increased since 2001.
“I was talking to my daughter about it the other day and I said, well, you know you could take care of a child 50 hours a week and maybe get $180, so you’re talking about $3 to $4 an hour. And my daughter said—isn’t that illegal? I mean she probably gets $11 an hour when she babysits around town as a 16 year old.”
Bye is the author of a new bill that aims to consolidate the disparate strands of early childhood education in the state into one department. She would also like to see reimbursement through Care4Kids tiered to encourage increasing quality. For instance if a provider got her associate’s degree in early childhood education, her state reimbursement would increase. Anne Pratt of the Connecticut Early Childhood Alliance says that’s a laudable goal for providers, but for a one- or two-person business the practical details are challenging.
“Most people who are now in these centers providing and educating children have to work, and they have to stay working, while also getting their degree.”
Pratt says it’s vital that the state support the professionalization of childcare by increasing reimbursement rates, and also providing scholarships for better training.
"If there can be confidence, uniformity and transparency in what is expected of these small businesses, that would make a huge difference."
An increasing body of research points to quality early childhood education as a way to improve school readiness, and by doing that to lower dropout rates, teen pregnancies and rates of incarceration. To many advocates that’s a strong argument for investment in these nascent small businesses.
For WNPR, I'm Harriet Jones.