Virginia Family Child Care Providers Learning Business Skills

By COLLEEN CURRAN, Richmond Times-Dispatch

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — As many childcare facilities closed their doors during the COVID-19 pandemic, DeShonda Jennings opened her family’s home daycare, DJ Shining Stars Daycare.

“I knew that all of these families needed help and that kids needed nurturing,” said Jennings, who left a comfortable job at a company to start childcare for her family.

“This is a professional business, but sometimes we’re not considered a small business because it’s run from our home,” Jennings said.

While she has received support for child development and education, to date she has never received support for running her own business.

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Jennings was one of seven black-owned family-owned home childcare providers selected for Capital One’s [email protected] accelerator program. The 12-week small business program aims to help businesses stabilize and grow with assessments, workshops and learning new skills.

“We know that home-based family day care is the most common form of child care in this country, but often, as small business owners, home-based providers are the most overlooked when it comes to support,” said Toria Edmonds-Howell, community engagement manager for Das Capital One’s 1717 Innovation Center.

This was Capital One’s third accelerator program. The first helped non-profit organizations and the second supported black-owned restaurants that have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

“As childcare workers in Richmond continue to experience the impact of the pandemic, we want to help,” Edmonds-Howell said.

During the pandemic, many childcare grant programs were created to help the ailing industry at both the federal and state levels, but because the grants and funding were based on enrollment levels, home providers didn’t get nearly as much support like larger centers.

Childcare at home has always been important to the community, but it hasn’t always been valued, said Janet Burke, director of child development services at ChildSavers, a local nonprofit that provides resources for childcare. Of approximately 6,900 child care providers in Virginia, nearly 2,500 are family day care providers, often run by women and women of color.

“The pandemic brought them to the fore as they opened their doors to their home to provide care as most were closing,” Burke said.

Capital One wanted to focus on licensed home care providers for this year’s [email protected] program to help day care home providers build skills, grow their business and serve more children in Richmond.

“A lot of them chose it out of a love for children and to support families,” Edmonds-Howell said during an event that marked the culmination of the program. “They need a space to think about growing and stabilizing their business.”

Danielle Whesu and her husband opened their family daycare, Tiny Tots University in Mechanicsville in August.

After 10 years teaching at Richmond and Henrico County schools, Whesu said she made the switch because she saw more and more children arriving who weren’t ready for kindergarten. As a mother of two boys, ages 1 and 5, she wanted to give her children and others a stronger foundation in early childhood education, she said.

She said [email protected] helped her develop financial plans, administrative plans, and become more organized.

“You don’t think about all those things because you’re so focused on teaching the kid that you forget about the business side of things,” Whesu said.

“Most of the time we focus on child development,” Jennings said. “But if we don’t get the support of how our business should be, there is no business.”

Childcare staffing remains one of the biggest challenges for the industry.

According to the US Department of Labor, the median wage for child care workers in Virginia is $26,350.

“Staffing and access to resources continue to be the biggest issues for all early intervention and education programs across the Commonwealth,” Burke said. “We still don’t see programs operating at full capacity due to limited staffing while others hire their new staff from scratch.”

According to an analysis by the UC Berkeley Center for the Study of Child Care Employment (CSCCE), the median hourly wages for child care facilities across the state are $16 per hour for assistant teachers, $19 per hour for teachers, and $26 per hour for directors.

“The biggest hurdle for us has been employee retention,” said Shemik Sellars, owner of Legacy House Preschool in Chesterfield County. “At that level, it’s difficult to give people what they deserve for the type of work they do.”

The state limit for family day care providers is 12 children.

“We’re constrained by the amount of revenue we can potentially generate,” Sellars said, making it difficult to pay employees a decent wage.

Employment in the childcare industry rose slightly in October after 4,900 jobs were added, according to a recent US Bureau of Labor Statistics jobs report.

However, employment in the sector is 8.4% below February 2020 levels and hovering around the same rates as this summer, according to CSCCE analysis. According to the study, 88,400 childcare positions have been lost since February 2020.

Sellars pays her staff and herself $15 an hour and decided to increase her staff to four.

“I have chosen to work with more staff than we legally require so that we have a smaller ratio for the children who receive more care,” she said.

Sellars said she’s seen more language, learning and social delays in children that may have been caused by the pandemic. She also wanted to have more staff so she wouldn’t have to close the store when someone is sick, which would impact families and their jobs.

But that means she only makes about $35,000 a year.

Sellars also said she’s not able to offer health benefits to her employees, which worries her.

“I want to be able to pay employees what they are worth. It’s an important job,” she said.

Through the Virginia Quality Birth to 5 (VQB5) program, Sellars is able to offer its teachers a $2,500 bonus that helps with staff retention.

All participants in the [email protected] accelerator program also received a $5,000 stipend. Sellars said she will use the grant to update program materials and purchase a new kitchen playset, as well as provide a vacation bonus for staff. Jennings said she will use the grant to invest in a playground for DJ Shining Stars and repair the sidewalk near her home. Whesu said she will use the money to look for space to expand Tiny Tots University.

All three women said their ultimate goal is to grow their businesses into center-based child care businesses where they can serve more families and children.

“We will be able to take in more children and pay someone more than minimum wage because we need good workers and teachers,” Whesu said.

“I get so excited just thinking about it,” Jennings said. “To make a difference and help so many families.”

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