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How To Pivot Your Family Child Care Business During COVID-19

Episode 212 – The COVID-19 pandemic has created opportunity for family child care providers to pivot their businesses by offering smaller group care for parents looking for accessible care in their neighborhood. In this episode, Jerletha McDonald, CEO of Arlington DFW Child Care Professionals and entrepreneur shares her experience and tips on how to build a high quality and sustainable child care business that will succeed in the ‘new normal’.

Episode Transcript

Jerletha McDONALD:

Especially in this time, there’s so many things that you can do in the field of early care and education to make your business the best that it could be. And there will never be a shortage of kids!

Ron SPREEUWENBERG: 

Jerletha, welcome to the Preschool Podcast!

McDONALD:

Hey, Ron! Thank you so much for having me, I really appreciate it.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

It’s our pleasure, Jerletha. On the show today, everybody, we have Jerletha McDonald. She is the owner of Nurturing Gifts Infant and Toddler Center in Arlington, Texas. She’s also the CEO of Arlington DFW, which stands for Dallas Fort Worth Childcare Professionals. And she’s also recently kicked off a podcast called Everything Child Care.

We’re delighted to have her on the show today to talk about all the things she’s passionate about, including entrepreneurship and advocacy for early-childhood educators and especially women of color in early-childhood education. Welcome to the show. Let’s start off learning a little bit about you, Jerletha. How did you end up getting into the field of early-childhood education?

McDONALD:

Well, I started off… I was pursuing a medical degree – I want to be a radiology technologist. And that just did not work for me. And I struggled with math and science. And I had lost my job – I worked at a really prominent hospital in this area and was laid off from my job. And I was, like, nine months pregnant with my son. And I had two other girls – I had a six-year-old and an eight-year-old at the time. And I was like, “Oh my gosh, what am I going to do?”

But I always wanted to spend more time with my children because in my particular position, I worked a lot of hours. And when my husband used to come home, when I was off of work, I always had the neighbor kids there, all the time. Like, “You need to start a childcare center.” And I was like, “You know what? That is a great idea.”

So, I looked up the Texas standards and rules and procedures on how to start a family childcare center. And I did it. And I also changed my major right along with that. And I changed my major to child development and family studies. And I sailed through the program and that was kind of all she wrote. And so then I got to spend time with my own children and also help families raise and nurture their children as well.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

That’s an interesting story. And the first time I’ve heard that one, which is, your husband was basically, like, “You’re already running a home childcare anyway, so you might as well just make it official!”

McDONALD:

Exactly, that’s exactly how it went. I mean, every day I did arts and crafts because I didn’t have anything to do as a stay-at-home mom. So, I poured all my extra energy and time into my children, and not just my children but my neighborhood children.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

That’s great. And I notice in some of the language that you use, you use the words “entrepreneur”, “professional”. Why have you chosen to use that kind of language in reference to early-childhood education?

McDONALD:

Oh, because first of all, we are business owners. We run empires, we run companies. And that language is huge, right, because especially with the respecting factor in our field. Like, hey, we don’t get the respect that we need. You know, stuff like that.

So, in my teachings, I like to tell the colleagues or the students that are in my class, the teaching students in my classes, that “You are a business owner. You are entrepreneur. She is your colleague. You are running a business. So, you have your future LLC’s [limited liability companies].”

I use language like that because I want to change the narrative of childcare. Like, I am a business owner and my friends are business owners as well. And also when someone is talking to me that is outside of childcare, once I’m talking like that it’s like, “Oh, she really is a business owner.” Yes, I am and my friends are, too.

So, I think that’s very important for women that are in this field to use that type of language, to kind of distinguish yourself as an actual business owner, as a CEO, as an entrepreneur or whatever. I think that’s really important. That’s very important, especially to change the narrative that we are professionals. And this is a profession where we are caring for children, educating children and everything else. So, that’s why.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Absolutely. And you really do have that bridge in terms of caring a lot about the language around entrepreneurship and being a business owner, but also the social impact of early years education and really improving child development. Can you tell us a little bit more about that and then how you kind of balance those two?

McDONALD:

Yes, so, even with the name of my particular business, it used to be called Kitty Corner’s Home Learning Center. And so the story behind that: when I went to form an LLC, what I learned quickly is that name belonged to someone else. And this is as I grew in the business. I was like, “Wow. So, let me think of a name that kind of centers along what I’m doing.”

And so that’s Nurturing Gift. And I was like, “This is what we do. We develop the foundation.” We provide the foundation for children along with their parents because parents are their first teachers, right? So, I’m just an extension of what they get from home.

So, I was like, “Hmm, the part with child development and making sure that children are getting what they need comes from nurturing their gifts at a very young age.” And so that goes along with what I do in the running of my business. So, I hope that answered your question a little bit.

“Nurturing Gifts Infant and Toddler Center” really goes along with what I do. And so when I go out and speak about my business, I say, “Hey, this is what I do. I’m nurturing these children’s gifts because everyone is born with something.” And that’s really important. So, that goes along with that language piece as well.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Awesome. And you also are the CEO of an organization called Arlington DFW Childcare Professionals. Can you tell us a little bit about what that is and why you started that?

McDONALD:

Yes! So, Arlington DFW Childcare Professionals is a professional network of women business owners. Most – probably about 90% – of the members of our organization are family care owners and about 10% are center directors.

And what that is, is we provide monthly workshops and networking events for family childcare professionals and owners and directors of centers. And these classes are lines up with the State of Texas standards that we have to have. In the state of Texas, a family childcare provider has to have 30 hours of continuing education. And so those workshops align with that.

But not only do they align with that, we also have to go into [discussing] business in building up your business in a way that is important because I think you do hear a lot of talk about running high quality centers. But everyone knows to run a high quality center, it takes dollars, right?

And so to make sure you are keeping up with that, making sure your business practices are in tune and are intact, along with the curriculum being an instruction part and the social and emotional development of our children, all that kind of runs together because in the family childcare home, it’s just the provider, right? And so she has to be in tune with both sides of her business. And so that’s kind of what we do.

And we also host a conference, an annual conference each year. And we have business practices, we have social and emotional development. We have team building, you name it, we have it all at our conferences each year.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

And you mentioned that about 90% of the membership or attendees are family childcare providers. Can you tell our audience a little bit more about how you see family childcare providers’ role in early-childhood education and why they’re such an important part of the early-childhood education system?

McDONALD:

Oh, yeah. So, our role is very important and significant and it’s crucial. So, families childcare, not only do we care for children, we care about the whole family. And also we fill in the gaps, too. We fill in the gaps because sometimes a parent may not qualify or afford maybe a high-ticket or I guess you would call a chain childcare facility. And they’re like, “I really want my child to go here,” but they really want the same quality.

Or maybe they just want a smaller ratio size especially now more than ever, right? Or you just have that parent that just wants family childcare period because they want their child to be in a home-like setting.

So, that’s where family childcare… that’s what we do. We fill in that gap to care for our children and their families because the families that we care for become more like an extended family. Every child that I had in my care, I am still connected to that family to this da, right? And I started this in 2008. And I know all of my children, families and their extended families because of the intimacy of family childcare.

And I speak right now, especially where the climate is going with COVID-19, family childcare is a hot topic. We’ve been a hot topic but now with the whole world knows how hot we are. But anyway, family childcare is a really special place. And these are really special women who are running these businesses.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

So, are you seeing or hearing from friends or people in your network that more folks are interested in or are starting family childcare programs?

McDONALD:

Oh, absolutely. I have been contacted by several teachers to help them start their family childcare business. One, because they don’t want to go back to the classroom – for obvious reasons, for COVID – or they just want a career change. COVID has stopped a lot of things, but it has created a lot of opportunities as well. And so a lot of women are like, “You know what? Let me just pivot and do this.”

So yes, I’ve been contacted by several teachers, I should say, which is very interesting, who would like to start their family childcare business. And also just different agencies maybe asking for my opinion or consultation on family childcare or just want to start a program for family childcare or something. So, yes, there is a lot of interest in family childcare right now, which is good.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, it’s interesting. And I think, too, we’re seeing a phenomenon of families coming together and saying, “Hey, I don’t have childcare right now and you don’t have childcare. Maybe we can pair up together and find a teacher who wants to take this on?” So, definitely the supply and the demand is there.

McDONALD:

Yes, the supply and demand is there. And so what my advice would be for teachers, because it is easy to kind of start an unofficial cohort of, “Hey, we’re going to do tutoring and stuff like that.” But when you care for children, especially in the state of Texas, you have to get your license and you have to do it right.

So, that would be my one thing to advocate to teachers or someone who is thinking about getting into it still: Make sure you set up your business just right and get all your licenses and certifications that you need to move forward, to make sure that the children are safe in your care and that you are doing everything according to the rules and regulations.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, that’s good advice. And I assume that’s some of the things that you would cover in your Child Care Professionals group in the Arlington Dallas Fort Worth area, too, right?

McDONALD:

Yes, and coming up soon I have a cohort that will be starting on how to start your family childcare business. And in this class we will talk about everything from startup to finish, how to run your program, how to get your handbooks in order and stuff like that. So, that will be starting very, very soon.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Cool. And what other advice do you have for family childcare providers out there during COVID-19? Maybe they’re entrepreneurs that are just starting up or maybe they’re folks like yourself who’ve been doing it for many years.

McDONALD:

Oh, my number one advice would be [to] innovate or die, basically, innovate or die. And I know this is a really hard time but you have to think of things that are going to keep you on top of your game and ahead in your game.

And right now, all the old stuff that we used to do or how we used to do things, that’s out the window. There’s nothing we can do about it – COVID-19 came and she has made her stake in the ground.

And so my thing is, what I tell providers in my network, “What are you going to do? How are you going to pivot your business to make sure your business remains high-quality and sustainable at the same time?”

So, I like to use the example of Blockbuster and Redbox [home video rental services]. So, Blockbusters are out. Everybody went to Blockbuster. Did you go to Blockbuster?

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Definitely, we all did.

McDONALD:

Yes, we did, me too. But what happened was that Redbox came out. And you can go to the grocery store [and say,] “Oh, I can get a movie right here!” So, eventually Blockbuster did come out with the little box machines, but it was too late – Redbox already took over.

So, that’s why I like to say you have to stay on top of your game. You have to innovate and take your… you can complain sometimes because sometimes you need to have an outlet. But take those complaints and turn those complaints into action in your business.

And so that’s what I like, that’s my best advice for a family care provider, especially in this time. There are so many things that you can do in this field of early care and education to make your business the best that it can be. And there will never be a shortage of kids. Right now in Texas I know there are probably thousands of children being born at this minute. So, we will never go out of business. You just have to innovate how you’re going to run your business from here on out. So, that would be my advice: innovate or die – or close, I wouldn’t say “die”. Innovate or close.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, that’s good advice. You have to stay on your game. And if you’re an entrepreneur, things change quickly, absolutely.

McDONALD:

Yes, and learn to adapt to change, too. Adapt to change and make it work for you.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, absolutely. Before we wrap up, I wanted to ask you also about your advocacy and in particular for women of color. We’re in this opportune moment where there’s the context around the Black Lives Matter movement and anti-racism, which is great to see those developments happening, which we’re very supportive of.

And I just wanted to ask you about in early-childhood education, in that context and in that environment, what’s the conversation around advocacy for women of color with this backdrop?

McDONALD:

I would say moving forward, making sure… because in this fashion, there are a lot of women of color who run high-quality childcare centers. But sometimes at the top of these organizations, it doesn’t look like that, right? It looks like Caucasian women. Not saying they’re doing anything bad or anything but making sure the top level reflects the other tiers. I wouldn’t even say “lower level” because there are so many tiers to this profession.

So, making sure that in every conversation women of color are included because we really do a lot of work in this profession. And I can tell you, most of my friends or most of the people in my organization are women of color, all colors, of all backgrounds, ethnicity backgrounds. So, making sure that we are at each table when decisions are being made.

Also, for women who aren’t at the tables, my advice to them is to create your own table or create your own space and make a lot of noise in that space and make a lot of innovation and a lot of things happen in that space and that will also draw others to you in black. [And they will ask,] “What is this group ladies talking about? What are you guys doing?” So, creating your own movement and not just being silent with it by yourself but creating your own movement and merging it with other moments as well to make it worth both parts.

NAEYC [The National Association for the Education of Young Children] is doing a great job with that. They have had several different… it’s called HPIO [High Performing Inclusive Organization]. It was about two years ago, two summers that I attended [the HPIO Summit] and it was on diversity and inclusion and how to include new voices and what they need to do to make sure that all voices are heard, from every background.

So, the work that they’re doing right now, I’m still in a cohort with them as well, learning even more stuff about diversity and inclusion. So, I think that’s very important. I think it’s very important to have women of color at each table when decisions are being made.

And also asking us our opinions, coming to women of color in the field of early care and education and asking us, what do we want? What do we need? Instead of putting it out there like, “This is the best, one size fits all,” because one size does not fit all, at all.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, that’s a great point.

McDONALD:

I’m very passionate about that. And also the economic development of women of color in the field of ECE [early-childhood education] because there are a lot of times we still feel that we need more money, we don’t get paid all and that kind of stuff. But however we can make things happen. So, I think that asking us and including women of color at each table will better move the needle as well because we’re doing awesome work.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Absolutely. And I feel like especially in the field of early-childhood education, where early-childhood educators are responsible for the future generation, getting diversity and inclusion right and being very proactive on that front is just that much more important.

McDONALD:

And not being afraid to talk about it because it is a topic and we have to talk about this. And also not putting it on the back burner. You know, like you go to a meeting and its on the agenda, “We’re going to talk about A,B, C, D, E, F, G. Oh, and then we’re going to talk about diversity and inclusion.” How about let’s talk about that first? Because sometimes we never get to that point.

Let’s talk about that first because there are several children that we care for that are children of color or that may have special needs, that may have just a whole bunch, a plethora of things that we need to talk about these issues first. No more putting this on the back burner. It has to be first in every conversation, along with the money.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, I love your passion. I love your action orientation, too. You’re definitely someone who, when you see a challenge or an issue, you do something about it. I love it. And also the example it sets for leadership in early-childhood education. So, I’m so happy that you’re able to join us on the show today.

And before we wrap up, I just wanted to ask you, for our listeners who may want to get in touch with you or learn more about the work that you’re doing, how they can do that?

McDONALD:

Okay, well, you can reach me at ArlingtonDFWChildCareProviders@gmail.com. Or you can follow me on all my social media platforms: Jerletha McDonald Radio on Facebook, @Jerletha_McDonald on Instagram. Also, you can follow my agency’s page, @ADFWChildCare on Twitter, @ADFWChildCare on Instagram and Arlington DFW ChildCare on Facebook. And you can just [web search] my name and I’ll pop up.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

You have all your social media and search engine optimization covered by the sounds of it?

McDONALD:

Yes! So, one thing also, when people just put my name in, my websites should pop up as well.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Wonderful. Jerletha, thank you again for joining us. It’s so great to have somebody of your passion and accomplishments and drive join us on the show as a mentor. And I hope some folks out there will reach out to you. Thanks again for coming on the Preschool Podcast!

McDONALD:

Thank you for having me, I appreciate it!

Carmen Choi

Carmen is the Marketing Coordinator and Preschool Podcast Manager on the HiMama team. She's been working with childcare business owners and consultants for 3 years. She is passionate making connections that empower the ECE Community through knowledge-sharing to support better outcomes for children, their families, and society!

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