A lack of affordable, reliable, high-quality child care is really bad for parents, kids and economic growth. With that in mind, Coastal Enterprises Inc. (CEI), a non-profit community development organization based in Brunswick, Maine, recently designed Child Care Business Lab, a five-year program to boost the number of child care enterprises in underserved rural areas of Maine. The goal is a trifecta, of sorts: creating job opportunities for child care workers, eliminating a barrier many parents who want to work face and providing an enriching experience for children.
“If we can help provide high-quality child care, we can enable more parents to be in the workforce,” says Cynthia Murphy, senior program director for workforce solutions at CEI. The program has $1.7 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The first cohort includes 10 entrepreneurs, including eight child care centers and two home-based businesses, with a focus on seven counties—areas with high rates of unemployment and poverty. Two of the businesses are located in towns with no current child care; two are multi-lingual—one for immigrants and another for a Latino population working in fish processing plants, among other employers in the area.
The goal is for cohort members to start operations in August, so parents can make child care arrangements before the start of the school year. After that, there will be ongoing support, including quarterly virtual sessions, allowing participants to continue their education.
Providing Child-Care Business Basics
The lack of child care in Maine is particularly acute, according to CEI. The number of family-based child care businesses (the predominant offering in rural areas) declined 28% from 2010 to 2016.
A big problem for child care providers, according to Murphy, is that, while they may love kids, they aren’t necessarily savvy business owners. Plus the sector is highly regulated, so there are a great many complex licensing and other requirements to tackle. (Think state regulated child-to-staff ratios or zoning ordinances).
So the curriculum will include startup basics, like creating a business plan, working one-on-one with an advisor. Plus, CEI is teaming up with Maine Roads to Quality Professional Development Network, a professional development organization for child care providers, to contribute curriculum about everything from how to manage child care operations to creating nutritious lunches.
CEI developed the program from months of research—what Murphy calls “listening tours” —talking to economic development folks, leaders of chambers of commerce and small business advisory groups, as well as child care providers and residents in rural and low-income areas. “We discovered that these counties had child care deserts,” says Murphy. “There were more than three times as many children as licensed providers.” In one area where a child care business licensed for 20 children had just closed, Murphy met four parents who were forced to quit their jobs when they couldn’t find a care replacement.
They also learned that existing child care providers felt isolated when trying to navigate the complexities of starting a business. “That was one of the reasons we came up with the lab,” says Murphy. “To bring together groups with a passion for early childhood development who could become a community, with relationships that will last for decades.”