A pilot program in Kent County will provide business support to local child care providers

First Steps Kent received a $750,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to develop an Early Childhood Shared Services program in Kent County. Shared Services is an innovative approach to strengthen the child care industry by helping providers share costs and deliver services in a more streamlined and efficient way.

“Shared Services sounds like something that could benefit early child care providers,” said Joanne Sweedyk, local in-home child care provider. “It is difficult to make phone calls and figure out logistics during the daytime hours, as there are children in my care. It would be wonderful to have downtime in the evenings and weekends to spend with my family. I love my job, but it is often all-consuming with the business aspects that go into it.”

This three-year grant will allow First Steps Kent to pilot a Shared Services model to offer more support and back-end services to childcare centers and family homes. The tangible benefits that would come along with Shared Services are group insurance, buying power, training, and professional development and basic business management support. The expenses and time associated with running a childcare business force many providers out of the industry. Research shows easing those burdens helps stabilize the pool of providers, giving families more options.

“We’ve found that the early care providers who are serving our youngest children need advocacy and support,” said Anissa Eddie, Kent County’s Pritzker Fellow. “The research shows that high quality childcare is critical to the development of children and their readiness for Kindergarten. People start caring for babies and children because they are passionate about it, but too often they end up closing their doors due to isolation, low compensation, and the stress factors that come with running a small business.”

This pilot was developed by a broad group of early childhood stakeholders including Dr. Nkechy Ezeh, CEO of Early Learning Neighborhood Collaborative, Gayle Orange, CEO of Camp Fire West Michigan 4C, and representatives from the Frey Foundation, Steelcase Foundation, Doug and Maria DeVos Foundation, Kent ISD, Grand Rapids Community College, and the Early Childhood Investment Corporation.