Six Questions for All Our Kin Founder Janna Wagner
Nearly half of families with children under 5 depend on home-based child care. Boosting quality and sustainability is the job of All Our Kin.
In cities and states across the country, public pre-kindergarten options are expanding by the day. Still, nearly half of families with children under the age of 5—particularly families in low-income communities—rely on home-based family child care centers (FCCs).
Despite their prevalence, most providers work in isolation, without access to the resources available to center-based programs. “Family child care providers are invisible. They are viewed as babysitters, not as teachers and professionals,” says Janna Wagner (N.Y. ’95), who co-founded All Our Kin, a nonprofit that supports 600 in-home providers and nearly 3,600 children across Connecticut and the Bronx, New York. “If we care about young children and equity, we have to care about and invest in family child care providers.”
Through hands-on coaching, training, licensure support, and ongoing professional development for family child care providers, All Our Kin increases the number and quality of early childhood programs available in low-income communities, while at the same time supporting the provider as a local business owner. “We work to create high-quality programs that are sustainable for the families that use them,” Wagner says, “and also the families that run them.”
Q: What sparked the idea for All Our Kin?
A: Welfare changed drastically when President Bill Clinton signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996. It pushed people off public assistance, and the folks who suffered most were single moms of very young children who struggled to find both decent work and affordable high-quality child care in their communities.
My co-founder, Jessica Sager, conceived of All Our Kin and asked me to be her partner in bringing the idea to life. For moms who wanted to stay home with their young children, it was a great way to make a living while helping other families out. It was a feminist idea, it was about economic growth, and it was based in child development and equity.
Q: Home-based care is largely ignored in discussions around expanding access to early childhood programs. How do we change that?
A: One easy first step would be for states and communities to make sure that when they roll out early childhood initiatives—professional learning opportunities, free college courses, state systems, etc.—they think beyond child care centers and public preschools to offer those resources to home-based providers. Several states are implementing quality rating and improvement systems to give parents better information about early childhood options while incentivizing child care programs to grow and develop with support. FCCs should be included in these opportunities. FCCs would benefit if more states offered higher child care subsidy reimbursement rates to programs that participate in staffed FCC networks, like All Our Kin. To that end, organizations like ours could be more connected and work together to share best practices and advocate for better policies. [Currently, at least 22 states have at least one staffed FCC network, but they are typically stand-alone organizations that serve a particular town or city, rather than the entire state.]
Q: What kind of support does All Our Kin provide?
A: Our staff visits family child care providers in their homes, supporting them on their educational program and business. For example, we help them with designing their programs, developing curriculum, and doing observations and reflection.
We also listen to what our child care providers tell us they need. Most providers struggle to make ends meet, so they don’t have capital to buy materials or make improvements to their space. Maybe the state requires them to have a fence for their yard, or they want a cozy corner where children can go when they need a moment alone. We created a zero-interest loan program, where providers can borrow money and pay it back on a regular schedule that fits their budget. It could be $10 a month. We’ve helped people buy Montessori materials, take college courses, and even replace cracked stairs—anything that improves the quality or safety of their program.
Q: How are you supporting long-term economic development and sustainability?
A: We don’t want to funnel women into low-paying jobs that don’t earn livable wages. A key piece of our work is entrepreneurship. We have a program where we go through the ins and outs of the family child care business. We teach them about finances, creating a contract and handbook, budgeting. After getting licensed and joining our network, nearly half of our providers report earning $10,000 more per year within two years, and one-third had moved to a larger apartment or house. We think creatively about how we can foster businesses that actually help people enter and stay in the middle class.
Q: Do you see unique benefits to home-based child care?
A: One huge value is that parents feel more comfortable leaving their kids with a caregiver who shares their language and cultural background. Often family child care providers live in the same community and may even be from the same country or hometown. Parents trust that they’ll be able to communicate effectively about their needs or their child’s development.
Convenience is also a big advantage. There are FCCs in every neighborhood, and it makes life easier when child care is a walk down the street or a couple of blocks away. And home-based child cares tend to be more affordable with greater flexibility. A lot of parents in low-income neighborhoods are working non-traditional hours or even night shifts that center-based child cares don’t accommodate. We have one provider who always has a plate of food ready for a single dad who comes to pick up his kids after a long shift. That kind of family-like environment comes naturally in an FCC program.
Q: What’s next for All Our Kin?
A: We hope to create three-to-five more All Our Kin sites in the next five years. We also are scaling indirectly by supporting communities that want to invest in family child care. From a policy perspective, we know we need to work with systems that already exist to help them see the value of including family child care and educate community stakeholders on policies that support FCC providers’ quality and sustainability.
I’m optimistic that the tide is turning. More and more, people are realizing that with access to resources and support, FCCs can be excellent, and they’re a worthwhile investment in ensuring more children have access to the highest-quality early care and education.
Featured image: All Our Kin co-founder Janna Wagner (wearing glasses) supports the work of family child care providers like Melissa Rivera (in blue) to provide warm and stimulating environments for kids. Photo by Meron Menghistab