When many child care facilities were closing their doors during the COVID-19 pandemic, DeShonda Jennings opened her family home child care DJ Shining Stars Daycare.
“I knew that all of these families needed help and that kids needed care,” said Jennings, who left a comfortable corporate job to start her family child care.
“This is a professional business, but sometimes we’re not looked at as a small business because it’s run out of our home,” Jennings said.
While she’s received support for child development and education, she’s never received support on running her own business, until now.
Jennings was one of seven Black-owned family home child care providers selected for Capital One’s [email protected] accelerator program. The 12-week small-business program aims to support business stabilization and growth with assessments, workshops and teaching new skills.
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“We know that family day home care is the most common form of child care in this country but, oftentimes, home-based providers are the most overlooked for support as small-business owners,” said Toria Edmonds-Howell, community engagement manager for Capital One’s 1717 Innovation Center.
This was the third accelerator program from Capital One. The first helped nonprofit organizations, and the second supported Black-owned restaurants disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.
“As Richmond child care providers continue to experience the impacts of the pandemic, we want to help,” Edmonds-Howell said.
Many grant programs for child care were launched during the pandemic to help the struggling industry, from both the federal and state level, but because the grants and funding were based on enrollment sizes, in-home providers didn’t receive nearly as much assistance as larger centers.
Family home child care 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 child care resources. Out of approximately 6,900 child care providers in Virginia, nearly 2,500 of those are family day home providers, which are often run by women and women of color.
“The pandemic brought them to the forefront as they were opening their doors to their home to provide care as most were closing,” Burke said.
Capital One wanted to focus on licensed home based providers for this year’s [email protected] program to help home day care providers build skills, grow their business and serve more children in Richmond.
“Many of them got into this for their love of children and supporting families,” Edmonds-Howell said during an event marking the culmination of the program. “They need a space where they can think about the growth and the stabilization of their business.”
Danielle Whesu and her husband opened their family child care, Tiny Tots University in Mechanicsville, in August.
After being a teacher for 10 years in Richmond and Henrico County schools, Whesu said she decided to make the switch because she was seeing more and more children arrive not prepared for kindergarten. As a mother of two boys, ages 1 and 5, she wanted to give her children and others a stronger foundational start in early childhood education, she said.
She said the [email protected] helped her develop financial plans, administrative plans and get more organized.
“All these things you don’t think about because you’re so focused on teaching the child, you forget about the business aspect,” Whesu said.
“Most of the time, we’re focused on child development,” Jennings said. “But if we don’t get the support of what our business should look like, there is no business.”
Staffing in child care continues to be one of the major challenges facing the industry.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the average wage for child care workers in Virginia is $26,350.
“The biggest struggles for all early care and education programs across the commonwealth continue to be staffing and access to resources,” Burke said. “We are still not seeing programs operate at full capacity because of limited staff while others are starting their new staff from scratch.”
For child care centers statewide, the median hourly wages are $16 per hour for assistant teachers, $19 per hour for teachers and $26 per hour for directors, according to an analysis by the UC Berkeley Center for the Study of Child Care Employment (CSCCE).
“The biggest hurdle for us has been staff retention,” said Shemik Sellars, owner of Legacy House Preschool in Chesterfield County. “It’s difficult on this level to be able to give people what they deserve for the type of work that they do.”
The state limit for family day home providers is 12 children.
“We’re boxed in with the amount of revenue we can potentially earn,” Sellars said, which makes it difficult to pay staff a reasonable wage.
Employment in the child care industry saw a small uptick in October after adding 4,900 jobs, according to a recent U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics jobs report.
However, employment in the industry is 8.4% below what it was in February 2020, and it is hovering around the same rates as this summer, according to the CSCCE analysis. According to the study, 88,400 child care jobs have been lost since February 2020.
Sellars pays her staff and herself $15 per hour and decided to increase her staff to four.
“I decided to operate with more staff than we legally need to so that we could have a smaller ratio for the children to receive more care,” she said.
Sellars said she’s been seeing more language, learning and social delays in children, possibly caused by the pandemic. She also wanted to have more staff so that if someone is out sick, she doesn’t have to close the business, which would impact families and their jobs.
But that means that she is making only around $35,000 per year.
Sellars also said she’s not able to offer her staff health benefits, which concerns her.
“I want to be able to pay the staff what they’re worth. It’s an important job,” she said.
With the help of the Virginia Quality Birth to 5 (VQB5) Program, Sellars is able to offer her teachers a $2,500 bonus, which helps with staff retention.
All participants in the [email protected] accelerator program were also awarded a $5,000 grant. Sellars said she’ll be using the grant to update program materials and to purchase a new kitchen playset, as well as to provide a holiday bonus for the staff. Jennings said she will use the grant to invest in a playground for DJ Shining Stars and in fixing the sidewalk near her home. Whesu said she will be using 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’ll be able to take on more kids and pay someone more than the minimum wage, because we need quality workers and teachers,” Whesu said.
“I get so excited just thinking about it,” Jennings said. “To have an impact and to help so many families.”