This week, Home Grown launched a new initiative—Leading From Home—focused on identifying and supporting provider leaders across the country. The new initiative will invest directly in home-based child care providers. It will also offer policy, strategy and communications support to help them get a seat at the table to inform system design and to ensure policy makers know how best to support this critical sector.
Here’s why it’s so important. I recently had a conversation with a home-based child care (HBCC) provider who described being invited to a Hill briefing considering new legislation on child care. This provider is a leader among her peers, offering support and guidance, and is well positioned to speak to the provider experience. She was excited to be included but found the event intimidating. Ultimately the legislation didn’t represent her or her peers. This instance is both unique and all too familiar: that this provider was invited to have a voice in this meeting is unusual; that her voice was absent from the resulting legislation is entirely consistent with what we at Home Grown hear from providers every day.
Across the country we have observed a troubling trend during the pandemic, that while reliance on home-based child care providers has increased, attempts to support this aspect of the child care sector have largely failed or fallen short. Home-based providers have faced a triple-whammy of challenges: decreased revenue due to enrollment shifts; increased expenses for PPE and sanitation costs; and the inability to substantively access public support to maintain their operations.
Even when institutions seek to address the needs of providers, there are problems in design and implementation that leave providers out. For example, we saw states roll out CARES grants to support providers in re-fitting their facilities and purchasing PPE to continue safe operations. The grants required that providers pay upfront for these goods and services, and then be reimbursed with the grant funds.
On average, most licensed HBCC providers earn about $30,000 per year from their child care operations. During the pandemic, we have seen them struggle to meet basic needs of food, rent and utilities. The requirement that providers spend several thousands on renovations or supplies upfront in order to access this funding meant that very few providers could use this critical resource.
HBCC providers’ inclusion in essential worker categories has varied across the country, meaning so too has their access to free PPE, hazard pay and vaccination prioritization. Even in places where HBCC providers are included, there may be fine-print requirements to show W2s or other payroll documents that providers may not have due to their status as sole proprietors.
The federal government made the Paycheck Protection Program, a forgivable federally-backed business loan, available to struggling small businesses including sole proprietorships to support these critical services during the pandemic. But HBCC struggled to gain access to PPP because the program largely required these operators to have existing business relationships with banks and to show payroll records that HBCC operators do not have. Meanwhile, a large percentage of providers put business expenses on personal credit cards. This debt is expensive, includes many fees especially for later payments, and defaults can undermine credit scores.
As we have worked with HBCC providers we have heard hundreds of stories of attempts to access supports that are not well suited or simply not available to providers. We also observe a key fact: HBCC providers are not at the table when policies are made or programs designed. Providers are not included in governance structures, do not advise public and private partners, and are not systematically engaged to support program design or system accountability. It’s no wonder that these programs fail to meet providers’ needs – they have not been designed with HBCC providers in mind.
Beyond this, as we work with providers and marshall private resources and encourage public actors to be responsive, we have also observed that providers are finding some support and it is largely from other providers. COVID has crystalized for many providers a clear understanding that they must raise their voices and support one another because as a provider leader in New York City, Gladys Jones, says, otherwise “we are going to go extinct.” Gladys, like many other providers around the country, has started pulling together her peer providers and demanding a seat at the table to share their experiences and to hold systems accountable to meet the needs of providers and the children and families they serve.=
Natalie Renew is the director of Home Grown, a national initiative committed to improving the quality of and access to home-based child care. She is an early childhood professional with more than 15 years of experience in the nonprofit and social service sector supporting children and families furthest from opportunity. Prior to joining Home Grown, Renew led the expansion of the early childhood education group at Public Health Management Corporation in Philadelphia. She has overseen the development of large programs, secured sustaining funding for major initiatives and supported local systems change in the early learning sector. Early in her career, she worked in child welfare and food access.