The problem is simple: If working mothers don’t have safe, reliable and quality child care, they cannot stay in nor return to the workforce.
More than 2 million women left the workforce in 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The movement is called the “she-cession.”
The solution may not be as simple, but a new nonprofit program is working to fix it. The work of an advisory council became part of the Hampton Roads Chamber Foundation, launching as Hampton Roads Shared Services Alliance, which aims to help stabilize and expand child care opportunities in the region.
The organization helps child care businesses create a sustainable business model and streamline operations with tiered services such as running payroll, billing tuition, posting job announcements, sorting resumes and screening calls, setting up interviews, running background checks, and generating financial reports and analytics.
Lauren Small, a certified business analyst with the Hampton Roads Small Business Development Center and owner of Early Education Business Consultants in Virginia Beach, is executive director for the alliance. She said the initiative began in 2018 to improve systematic issues impacting the industry.
“Shared services is successful in other communities and it’s really taking hold across the nation when we think about the child care business model,” Small said.
Hampton Roads Shared Services Alliance also offers business coaching for center directors, professional development for staff and networking.
The organization is funded by Childcare Aware of Virginia; Chesapeake R U Ready; EVMS Minus 9 to 5; Smart Beginnings Virginia Peninsula; Suffolk Early Childhood Commission; Virginia Beach GrowSmart; the cities of Newport News, Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, and Suffolk; and the business community. The network of support shows that it will take a village to get the already fragile small business industry hit hard by the pandemic back on track.
“COVID has really exposed some deep issues with the child care business model,” Small said. “And we’re recognizing how vital child care is to our economic landscape and our workforce of tomorrow.”
Small, who works daily with preschools and child care centers, said the industry is crumbling.
With universal low wages mostly devoid of benefits, Small said the industry is scrambling to keep up with the competitive and minimum wage increases.
“We’re competing with fast food workers,” she said. “And there’s really a big disconnect … what we really want in child care/early childhood education is degreed educators who really understand child development and have that educational expertise.”
With a high turnover rate, Small said changes are dire.
One important element is HRSSA’s leadership academy, which has 190 child care programs enrolled. Another is its Facebook group — with 414 center directors on board.
“Our industry is stretched to the limit right now; most of our directors are spending the majority of their day in the classroom,” she said. “That’s creating another issue where they don’t have time to manage.”
That’s where the alliance comes in to make a difference, said Yvette Anderson, owner of Right Start Early Childhood Center.
Anderson started the Chesapeake center 19 years ago but has worked in the industry for more than 40 years. Acknowledging her business acumen is not as strong as her early childhood education background, Anderson said HRSSA’s strategies and resources were instrumental to help her develop the areas she needed help in.
From budgeting to analyzing statements to human resources development, Anderson said the program helped her improve her business overall.
“The pandemic has been very challenging,” Anderson said. “When it started, we had a tremendous drop in enrollment.”
Forced to reevaluate her staffing, Anderson said the decision overwhelmed the remainder of her staff as extended hours kicked in.
Business news for the Hampton Roads region
Now with enrollment back in force, Anderson said she has a waiting list of clients but is lacking in consistent staff.
Audrey Livingstone said she held almost every position at Arms of the King Childcare Center in Newport News over the past five years before she became director in early 2020. She said it was a no-brainer to join the regional shared services alliance, offload administrative tasks and bring in more technology.
With a waiting list longer than it’s ever been and 10 to 20 phone calls daily, Livingstone said the center is moving ahead cautiously as it hires and trains new staff.
“I think anybody who runs a child care center or something equivalent will tell you your to-do list is never-ending,” Livingstone said. “ … So, it’s really wonderful to have a team to fall back on, who can support you and help you.”
For more information, visit hrssa.org or call community affairs and development director, Susan Long-Molnar, at 757-513-8633.
Sandra J. Pennecke, 757-652-5836, [email protected]
- 70% of young children have parents in the workforce.
- 1,295 additional child care slots are needed to meet the demand.
- 1 in 3 mothers are considering leaving the workforce, potentially affecting more than 27,800 working mothers.
- 45% of Virginia children started kindergarten without key literacy, math and social emotional skills.
- 67% of parents in Virginia say lack of access to child care, amid the pandemic, has negatively impacted their or someone in their household’s job.
- The cost of operating a safe child care program has increased by 45% during the pandemic.
Source: Virginia Promise Partnership