COVID-19 didn’t just reveal a broken child care system. A confluence of events dramatically worsened the frayed patchwork of child care programs in the US, after significant drops in center enrollment when parents lost jobs, shifts from in-school to at-home learning, and uncertainty about health and safety during a global pandemic. Since a lack of licensed child care options has long correlated with higher rates of unemployment, underemployment, and poverty, these problems only compound.
Here in Maine, only 26.5 percent of children under 15-years-old were in paid daytime or after-school child care. Many parents were already shuttling children between family and friends and/or working part-time, instead of full-time, jobs. Shortages in child care not only limit family income but in some cases, keeps parents out of the workforce altogether. And over the last 10 years, almost 30 percent of home-based child care in Maine—the predominant source of licensed child care in rural communities—closed.
During a listening tour of the seven Maine counties that border Canada, we learned that there are many people—predominantly women—with a passion for early childhood education, who would like to start a child care business but lack the acumen and confidence to get started. Child care is highly regulated, for good reason. In order to promote learning and development and keep children safe, states limit the ratio of children to adults; require extensive record-keeping and written policies; and have a variety of rules that change from state to state, in some cases mandating water tests and temperatures for freezers and refrigerators. Because that regulation can be an obstacle to entry, part of the solution is combining small business start-up education with child care business management and coaching.
The CEI Child Care Business Lab, an intensive six-month, cohort-based program, gives entrepreneurs the tools to start a successful small business, helps them refine their education philosophy, guides them through the licensing process, and connects them with necessary startup capital. Along with providing participants a blueprint for a high-quality, financially viable nonprofit, for-profit, co-op, or shared-model child care business, the lab gives isolated would-be entrepreneurs an opportunity to connect, support, and problem-solve with others. The lab recruits aspiring child care entrepreneurs in underserved, rural communities seeking to open centers that create jobs, provide quality care to children, and allow parents to go to work. Little did we know, as we began recruiting our first cohort of entrepreneurs, that the pandemic would arrive to heighten the urgency.
Read the full article about child care entrepreneurs by Betsy Biemann and Keith Bisson at Stanford Social Innovation Review.
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