In the summer of 2019, the Nebraska Early Childhood Collaborative (NECC) and All Our Kin (AOK) embarked on an innovative partnership to support the success of family child care (FCC) educators in four communities in Nebraska. NECC drew on AOK’s 20 years of experience with family child care in Connecticut and New York City to co-design and implement a plan unique to Nebraska. NECC and AOK hoped to increase the supply of family child care programs by creating a licensing support program, and to increase their sustainability through business training and coaching. From the outset, we strategized around the distinct needs of Nebraska’s rural and urban communities, and worked to make programming available in English as well as Spanish. This ambitious attempt to apply best practices from the urban Northeast to the Midwest exceeded our expectations for success, and we’re excited to share the lessons we learned.
In June 2019, NECC and AOK visited communities throughout Eastern Nebraska to identify ideal sites for the pilot. We were looking for eager partners on the ground in communities that had already identified a need for family child care business training and licensing support, and which had substantial populations of both English- and Spanish-speaking educators. We ultimately chose two urban communities (Omaha and Lincoln) and two rural communities (Fremont and Norfolk) that were experiencing shortages of child care and an educator-driven desire for business support.
NECC hired a team of Business Consultants who were rooted in each of these communities, and who shared a deep commitment to family child care entrepreneurs. Through a series of Train-the-Trainer workshops and reflective coaching conversations, All Our Kin trained the Consultants in AOK’s 10-week Business Series and 6-month Business Coaching Program.
In Fall 2019, NECC piloted the very first All Our Kin Business Series in the Midwest. NECC Business Coaches guided over 70 family child care providers through the 30-hour curriculum, which spans marketing, contracts, budgeting, recordkeeping, and more. The response from participants in the pilot was overwhelmingly positive, as providers expanded their business knowledge and built community with each other. Vicky Urwiller-Sepcenko, a FCC educator in Blair, NE, said, “Taking this class gave me the confidence and knowledge I needed to do things I never thought I could do. My business is better and my life is easier because of these classes. AND I got to know some mighty awesome people in the process!” Gabriela Martinez, an educator from Omaha, NE, shared her perspective in this video of the graduation of her Business Series.
We were thrilled that the data also confirmed successful implementation of the pilot. In the first round of implementation, 91% of providers showed increased knowledge over the course of the Business Series, with the average class scores on a pre/post assessment climbing from 59% to 79%. This data was in line with benchmarks in other states, including in AOK’s home sites in Connecticut and New York.
Meanwhile, NECC and AOK worked together to develop a family child care licensing support program inspired by All Our Kin’s Licensing Toolkit. In AOK’s Toolkit Program, a coach guides aspiring providers through the state licensing process, subsidizing their costs, helping them meet health and safety requirements, and setting them up to run a high-quality educational program. NECC adapted these lessons to Nebraska, creating a new and exciting program that has been met with great enthusiasm around the state in our pilot.
NECC’s Toolkit program comes at a critical moment for the state. Since 2018, the number of provisional licenses issued to new child care providers in Nebraska has declined by 33 percent. Launched in July of 2020, the Toolkit program brings an innovative solution to the market for new providers looking to start their business and for existing providers interested in getting licensed for the first time. By removing the barriers to licensure, the Toolkit program delivers mentorship and accessibility for providers to successfully complete the process and grow their child care business. As part of the increasing need for licensed providers in the Spanish-speaking community, NECC is also in the process of launching a bilingual pilot of the Toolkit.
Shared Values Lay the Groundwork for Success
Our shared set of values created the conditions for a strong partnership. Both NECC and AOK are invested in a relationship-based approach to our work with family child care educators, which includes shaping our programming around their voices and perspectives. We aim to lead with equity, prioritizing the educators with the least access to resources. We believe there is a great value in continuous learning as individuals and organizations. These shared values allowed NECC and AOK to jump into action at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic to collaboratively offer business supports to family child care providers all over the country, far beyond our home states.
Understand the Landscape First
The input we received from community members and family child care providers during our initial visits to the pilot communities revealed so much to our organizations about the specific challenges and opportunities in the Nebraska child care landscape. We adapted the plans for our partnership in response to these learnings, in particular moving up the timeline for licensing support given a clear need to increase supply of family child care before focusing in on sustainability. This clarified for AOK and NECC that a deep understanding of the landscape, drawing on data, local community partners, and family child care providers, should come even sooner in the planning stage for future pilot projects.
Balance Flexibility with Fidelity to Model
We were able to effectively implement All Our Kin’s 10-week Business Series in Nebraska by replicating a time-tested model with close attention to fidelity. This approach gave us confidence that Nebraska’s family child care providers were receiving the same high quality business training as providers in other communities around the country. Other programs required more flexibility and adaptation given the social, political and geographical differences between Nebraska and the urban Northeast. For example, because the licensing system is quite different between these states, we designed a new licensing program that fits for Nebraska, drawing on the lessons that All Our Kin has learned over the years. Finding this balance between fidelity and flexibility is an ongoing learning curve that we’ll continue to explore.
Looking toward the future
These themes may strike a chord for anyone who has brought a successful program model from one community to another. As we all look for opportunities to uplift the family child care field, collaboration between organizations and across geographies can spread skills and knowledge even further.
This pilot project has helped both the NECC and AOK scale up the quality and impact of our work. With an infusion of public and private investments, NECC expanded its reach across the state, now serving almost 200 providers. All Our Kin launched a national training institute and is now supporting trainers in 10 states to deliver the AOK Business Series to family child care providers. Each organization is deeply invested in the work of the other, and we look forward to long-term mutual support.
To learn more about the NECC Family Child Care Network, you can visit the website or check out this video where we break down the challenges we see providers face and how NECC gives them the resources to help them overcome obstacles.
To learn more about All Our Kin, you can visit the website. In addition to running staffed family child care networks in New York and Connecticut, All Our Kin provides technical assistance to national agencies and provider associations around business development supports, policy advising, educational coaching, and network development. See All Our Kin’s technical assistance offerings here.