Chloe Learey

Chloe Learey

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There have been copious headlines about the importance of child care as businesses struggle to find employees and families to calculate whether the cost of care will end up being more than they make in earnings. Prior to the pandemic, there was not enough child care. Now, the problem has only gotten worse. Child care is a failed market: low wages with no sustainable mechanism for increasing them without increasing the cost of care for families who already typically pay over $1,000 a month. Having more people aware of the connection between child care and a healthy economy has led to more understanding of why we need increased investments in the sector. Some of those investments will take time to have an impact, however, and we need more child care now.

One idea to create slots more quickly is expanding the number of licensed home-based child care programs. Home-based care has long been a cornerstone of the mixed delivery system, although it has often felt like a second-class citizen in the industry. There is a misconception that home-based programs are not as high quality as center-based ones. The quality of a program is not determined by where it is located.

As people have taken stock of their lives because of the massive disruption COVID-19 caused to our typical ways of being, considering opening a business in your home might be an interesting option. There are many reasons why you would make the leap. Maybe you have young children, maybe you’ve decided you want to be your own boss, or maybe you’ve always wanted to be an early educator. An article in Time, “Why Home-Based Childcare Might be the Future of the Industry” (October 21, 2020), raises several interesting points on why this business model might be more robust for the industry going forward. After all, it is easier and less expensive to stand up a small operation from one’s home than to create a program that requires a building, staffing, etc. It is also more flexible and responsive to changing environments; home-based child care programs were more likely to stay open during the pandemic than any other type of provider. Also, home-based programs have the most potential for addressing our “child care deserts” by providing a localized, scaled option that makes more financial sense in rural areas.

The Child Care Counts Coalition in Windham County (https://winstonprouty.org/child-care-counts/) is embarking on a project to help connect people who are interested in starting a child care business in their home with the resources they need to do it. A series of short videos will introduce people in our community who can help with everything from licensing to financing to business practices. While a Google search of “start your own child care business” yields a multitude of videos, guidebooks, and sample forms, having people to connect with who understand the local market and can help you walk through the process will help diminish the barriers to entry. In fact, the importance of mentorship and support from others in the business is a key topic in our first upcoming video, an interview with Melanie Zinn. Melanie owns Horizon Early Learning, which operates three programs in the region. Other videos will include interviews with licensors, small business technical assistance, high school and college educators, and lenders. If we can help get one new business off the ground in the next six months, it will be a win, although it would be great to have a cohort do it together. If you are interested in being part of the solution to our local child care crisis or know someone else who might be, please be in touch!

Chloe Learey is the executive director of Winston Prouty Center for Child and Family Development in Brattleboro and chair of the Vermont Early Childhood Advocacy Alliance Steering Committee.