Underserved Child Care Communities and Compliance. What’s the relation?

How does early childhood education professional development and child care compliance intersect?

Check all episodes of The Preschool Podcast

Episode #96: Our daily lives are filled with layered complex legal decisions, yet our teachers aren’t trained on these core competencies. If you are going to prepare educators the way we could prepare any other professional field (like lawyers, doctors, judges, etc), then we need to include compliance as part of our professional development training. Unfortunately, what is valuable to child care owners may not be aligned with what is important for parents and families. How do you reconcile our expectations as child care providers and the expectations about the quality of care from parents? What does quality child care truly mean? Michelle McGinnis says “when you are in a quality child care center you can hear it – it is palatable”.

Resources in this episode:

– Learn about Childcare Compliance on their site and with their blog.

HiMama Preschool Podcast, Episode #96 – Michelle McGinnis Proofread and revised by Andrew Hall – May 14, 2018

IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: The information in this presentation is intended as general practical advice based upon legal considerations and is not intended as legal advice. Applicable laws vary from state to state. Consult with a lawyer for your specific legal needs. We are primarily California lawyers and although we study law throughout the country, we tend to reference California laws by example. The sample provisions included in this presentation are based on California laws. Nothing we say today is a replacement for what you already know. For more information go to www.ChildcareCompliance.com and register to receive sample forms and childcare law updates.

Michelle MCGINNIS:

When you’re in a quality childcare center you can feel it. You can feel it in the environment. You can hear a certain noise, a certain ambient noise that’s there when children are happy and healthy and teachers are qualified. It’s palatable.


Hi, I’m Ron Spreeuwenberg, co-founder and CEO of HiMama. Welcome to our podcast about all things “early-childhood education”.

Michelle, welcome to the Preschool Podcast.


Thank you for having me.


It’s so great to have you on the show. You’ve got quite a unique background as a guest for the Preschool Podcast. You’re a criminal prosecutor, and you have an MBA from Cornell. And you’re also an owner-operator of a childcare program. Can you tell us a little bit about that journey with your background, and then moving into actually owning and operating a childcare program?


I would love to tell you that it was all by design and planned and well-orchestrated. But it wasn’t. The childcare profession was what my parents did when I was growing up. It started off as family business, family owned-business, family childcare and grew into centers. Of course I went away to UCLA as an undergrad and swore of my parents that I would never be involved in the industry because they work too hard for too little, and I wanted to be a high-powered lawyer making the big bucks. So I told them, “Absolutely I don’t want it. You guys should to go into retirement and sell it.” They listened to me. They did that.

And about midway into the legal profession, being involved in this huge machine that incarcerates people and punishes and deters and does what the legal system does, I had a change of heart, went back and repurchased at market value my parents’ childcare centres. And then I grew them to a chain of schools. I sold those schools in 2013 a few years ago. But for many years I was an owner-operator. At the same time I was a criminal prosecutor, sort of toggling between these two things. Going back to buy the schools, of course I had to go and become credentialed to earn my way through law school. I got my teaching credential and that’s high paid for law school. And then I became director, got the director permit, went back and got a Masters in Education Psychology.

So none of that was planned. I did a complete Nestea plunge backwards, if you can remember that commercial, into this profession.


Very interesting background, and interesting to hear your family history there, as well. That’s something I didn’t know. And also in your bio, which I was reading on your website, you talk a little bit about your passion for children in underserved communities and caring for those children in particular. And the idea that there’s a bit of a gap between the way that children are served in these underserved communities, compared to more affluent areas. Can you tell us a little bit about why that’s something that you’re passionate about and how you identify that gap and some of the observations you’ve noticed?


Sure and I’ll tell you how that came to fruition. In becoming credentialed, to be an owner-operator of a center in Los Angeles I had to of course take all the classroom requirements, the classroom teacher requirement and then the administrative modules requirement. And in doing so I had to visit and observe childcare centers all over L.A. County. I spent hours and hours doing observation. Number one, I wanted to make sure this is what I wanted, because I was following my heart, right? I followed my mind and my logical, rational self when I said, “I have these great skills. I want to be a lawyer. I love the law.” Very similar skills, by the way, litigating and teaching.

But I wanted to be a lawyer. So I followed my heart back into the profession, drug my parents out of retirement, opened the schools again. And on this mission I did the observations at the different schools and I saw the disparity. I visited with schools in what we call upper echelon or elite areas with very impassioned teachers and loads of enriched curriculum and fabulous facilities. And I see in the same demographic very understated, almost rural environment schools with a very holistic and progressive environment in elite areas. They didn’t have the huge budgets but they were still doing a great job for early-childhood.

And then I would compare that experience to what I’d see an underserved communities, which is where our family businesses were and where I grew the chain. Near USC, the University of Southern California, and in a city called Inglewood I opened three centers. And I could see in these neighborhoods when I did my studies the disparity, the difference. Still the same passion for teachers. All the teachers go to the same schools, either the community college or the university. They take the same units. But there was an absolute disconnect in the quality, all the way down to teacher-child interactions, which is really the hallmark of what was important to me: quality teacher-child interaction.

And this pulled at my heartstrings. “Why can’t we do a better job?” I was on a mission to do a better job for the children that my family served and that now I served. So that was what sort of brought me back, is seeing the difference between suburban childcare centres in underserved communities.


And so based on what you saw in your experience in early-childhood education, what are some of your conclusions or theories around why this gap exists?


That’s a very good question, and also a question I have to answer very carefully, because I can’t say with a certainty why certain situations were allowed to exist in some schools and not others. It could be because of the analysts, the people who come and audit the centers, that it’s only as good as the authorities that are requiring it to be in compliance, requiring the schools to be in compliance. So some of the disparity may be in the expectations or the requirements of the centers. Maybe that individual analyst was lax in one place or generous in another. I can’t really say. Perhaps it was the leadership at the schools. Maybe the reason they were in the profession – were they in it just for a business, or were they in it because it was a part of their DNA and something they really were driven to do?

So I can’t really say why. I can just say I observed several factors, from the individuals running the school to the authorities in charge of the school. There was just a disconnect.


And since that time, how has some of your work and efforts contributed towards trying to close this gap, or understand it more, or make a difference in these underserved communities?


Well, I learned a very hard and expensive lesson, because I really set off – and maybe this is a cautionary tale, I don’t know – but I really set out to see if I could close that gap myself, right? If I could take my earnings from the legal profession and our investment and my family’s background and experience in my education in all these industries and see if I could close the gap at our centers. And in many ways I think we were successful, and in many ways we were not.

It was way more complicated than that. Understanding what our demographic wanted, what was important to our parents was not necessarily in alignment to what I thought was important and what I learned on sort of this legal and education path that I took. I learned a lot in school. I learned a lot from my observations. But that is not necessarily what my clients valued. And so that was a very expensive and hard-learned lesson.


Interesting. Do you recall what some of the things were that your families really prioritized that may have been a little bit disconnected from what you thought they would prioritize?


Sure, and I’ll tell you this: Our clients were not one monolithic group, and of course there’s disparity within the group. So I thought that if I built a school like one that I would want for my children, with all-natural equipment, with all-organic food, with a progressive philosophy, with a definite and vision and mission to how children were spoken to, treated, disciplined, that who wouldn’t love it? This is what I saw on the other side of town. And folks there paid a premium for it.

I learned that I made assumptions about what our parents value and what they consider quality. And I should have asked the question first. I should’ve spent more time researching what our parents and our communities valued and why, rather than assuming that because I thought something was great or a certain group of parents thought it was great and they were paying a premium for it in a suburban town nearby that the parents in our demographic was valuing.

So all the way down to redirecting children’s behavior and how we approach that, what we thought was acceptable and allowable – free expression of children at a certain age group – what we thought was age-appropriate may or may not have been in alignment with what our parents considered appropriate. Maybe they set their boundaries a different place and we set ours. Tolerance for risk and other sort of area. I sent my children to a preschool where there is a high tolerance for risk-taking and boundaries, and if they wanted to climb the tree all the way to the top then, by gosh, that’s what they should do. Of course there’s adequate supervision and well-qualified staff and low teacher-to-student ratio. Of course it’s a safe environment. But encouraging children to take risks is what happened at my children’s preschool.

But at the preschool that I owned, that may not be what was important to the parents. Maybe coming home with sand in the hair and paint on that face is not what they consider a quality experience. Heavy academics and children who are able to sit in a seat and hold a pencil and do paperwork at 3- and 4-years-old, that was invaluable to some of our parents. But that was not at all valuable to me as a parent. So that’s the best way I can put it. I made assumptions that were costly.


That is interesting, actually, very interesting. And I can see how it would be very easy to take the direction that you did with assuming that everyone would be very happy to put their children in a program of the sort that you described, and yet that wasn’t the case.


By the way, no one cared about accreditation. I thought that NAEYC [National Association for the Education of Young Children] accreditation would set us over the top and people would flood the doors if we were able to say we were accredited by a national agency. Well, no one asked; no one was interested. When we survey the parents to start the process, they did not value accreditation, even after they learned about it. So that’s a firm example of what I mean, where I thought, “If we build it they will come.” That is not necessarily the case.


Yeah, it’s almost an interesting story of what we believe as people that are very in-tune with the field of early-childhood education and what people care about and think about in early-childhood education may not necessarily align to what families and parents are seeking, and not only in general but then especially when you even get into that next level of different demographics, different areas, different whatever. It’s very different. So it is I guess a bit of a cautionary tale about where you might want to spend your time and resources, in terms of your childcare programs, and what you deem to be valuable may not be deemed to be as valuable to your families. So that is very interesting.


That would be the lesson, the takeaway lesson, for your audience and anybody who hears our podcast today, is that making those assumptions were costly. I visited a school in Copenhagen, where their employees and their kids – that’s one of my observations I did more recently – and everything in this school was almost like paradise, from the equipment they use, to the programs, to the hand-woven satchels that the children used to collect their belongings, to the natural wooden environment. And their employees were from all over the globe. But everybody was bound by this, what they consider quality childcare.

And when I visited that there I reminded myself of what sort of my journey was in owning childcare centres and the mistakes that I made and the assumptions that I made. And I got there and I said, “Well, here’s a group of people from all over the globe who are like-minded when it comes to this topic.” And it is it was heavenly. It was paradise; it was utopia. I mean, it smelled good, it felt good. When you’re in a quality childcare center you can feel it. You can feel it in the environment. You can hear a certain noise, a certain ambient noise that’s there when children are happy and healthy and teachers are qualified. It’s palatable. And I felt that in Copenhagen. And I could never capture that at the schools that I owned.


And I think part of the takeaway for me here with this, too, is that you mentioned that everyone in Denmark was sort of on the same page, in terms of what quality early-childhood education was and how it should be delivered. So maybe part of the takeaway here, too, is educating families about what quality early-childhood education is and what it involves, because of course those who are working in the field should know best about how to deliver quality education to young children. And families are a big part of that, but of course they need to be educated as well in terms of what that looks like.


I would agree.


And just changing tune a little bit and connecting the dots here: You’ve also spent quite a bit of your career focusing on compliance in childcare. And can you tell us a little bit about Childcare Compliance, and how that might relate back to some of this discussion as well?


Sure. So about 20 years ago I was speaking at some industry events on legal issues and childcare. And then that sort of keynote speech turned into many, many more speeches and appearances on this topic. And what I realized, for me, is that what made me a different sort of owner-operator was not just my love for children and my passion for the industry and recognizing that it’s an important job, but the survival skills – that’s a better way to put it – the survival skills required to run a childcare business have very little to do with what we are taught in early-childhood.

And so whenever I interview a new teacher and he or she would say, “I really love children, I’m passionate about children and I understand that this is an important job,” that’s sort of the floor of where we begin in this industry. But unlike other industries where your drive and passion may be enough, this industry requires so much more. It’s a caring profession, but the more important skills are core competency skills. You’ve got to be aware of not just the regulations, but the reasons behind the regulations.

And what made my family and I be able to survive is that you can’t stay here if you only are driven by your love for children. If you can focus on or spend some of your education and time doing some simple things like keeping up with childcare industry news… On our website, www.ChildcareCompliance.com, we publish from all over the globe childcare news in the industry: political, legislative, criminal, civil, you name it. Because one of the things that drives the quality childcare program is awareness about the entire business.

And from there you also learn about the legalities that… I mean, we’re burdened with legalities and regulation, and for good reason. It’s not to say, “We just keep kids safe.” It’s got to be the next step. You need to know very basic life skills like how to protect yourself from allegations in this industry. Do you even know the definition of “negligence” or what someone would have to prove against you if they said you were negligently caring for their children?

Instead what we do is we drive this profession with our compassion and love and big hearts instead of our strong heads and minds, to say, “Okay, I’m caring for people’s children. This is a very vulnerable profession that I’m in. Everybody is not like-minded. There are some opportunists out there. What is my legal obligation? What do I do to show and demonstrate that I’m a professional, a competent professional, if that ever brought into question? What are some very basic legal questions that I can answer?”

All the way down, a good example is not just negligence and “Do you know the elements of negligence and how to defend yourself in that?” But if you have a family situation that enters your program, a family that enters your program that [is] going through a divorce? Do you know simple things like how to read a restraining order, how to look at a visitation or custody order? What are the parents allowed to do?

So our daily lives are filled with – whether in the classroom or in the office – are filled with all of these layered, complex legal decisions. Yet we don’t train our teachers on these core competencies so that they can survive in the industry. And that’s how Childcare Compliance came to be. That’s why I started teaching it at UCLA and the community college, is because now there’s a shift in the industry where they realize – some people in the industry, some pioneers at major institutions are realizing – if we’re going to prepare people for this profession then we have to prepare them like we would any other profession.

Lawyers, engineers, doctors, they’re all aware of the liability in their industry. And there’s professional development to help them. There’s no such professional development that we’ve found. There’s one person on the East Coast has been preaching this for a very long time, and I have the utmost respect for him, Tom Copeland. But other than Tom I don’t see anyone else. It’s nowhere to get the information.

So that’s sort of where Childcare Compliance was born, it’s out of need. After starting 20 years ago, lecturing, lecturing. And now there’s a high demand for these lectures because there’s nowhere else to get it.


Yeah, it is really quite surprising, when you when you talk through it like that, in terms of the risk that childcare programs are at with all the regulation and licensing that’s required, and the lack of education and skillsets in that area. And if people want to go to find out more about some of these specific issues, I think you mentioned your website before but maybe we can just circle back again on what your website is and where people can go to get in touch with you.


Sure. And everything I’m about to tell you will cost you nothing. It costs nothing. And we have a special for all HiMama clients who hear this podcast as well. I’ll give you our executive level access article, too, if you just shoot us an email. We’ll send you access to that as well. So for nothing at all you can go on to www.ChildcareCompliance.com, no underscores, all one word and click on “News.”

And if you do nothing else for yourself, go to the news link on a regular basis and follow some of the news in the industry. You don’t have to do any more than that to stay abreast of what’s going on because we take the time and resources to gather it from all over the world. Be abreast of what’s going on legislatively and politically. And that may sound boring to you but not when you click on the news link and see it for yourself and say, “Oh my goodness, I thought it was just me.”

I just had this problem with a parent. We just had a parent show up under the influence, or we suspected to be under the influence. We didn’t know what to do. We just had a parent show up without protective childcare seating for their childcare seat. We didn’t know what to do. We just had a mom tell us that the dad’s no longer allowed to pick up the kid. We didn’t know what to do. But there’s news articles about that right there. You are not alone.

The second thing is, click on our blog. There are tons of free articles there that we’ve written on every topic. We actually wrote the textbook that the university is using on childcare business and law. And then for HiMama listeners you can always send us an email at info@ChildcareComplianceCommunity.com, or just contact HiMama; we’ll put you in touch.

There’s executive level article designed for managers who want to tackle these issues with some best practices in staff meetings and training, and those are available for you. So all that’s there for you HiMama clients and listeners at no cost. For those who want to take the class they can always do so at UCLA and they can contact us for more information.


Awesome. Those sound like some really practical resources, and obviously I would encourage listeners to proactively go to Michelle’s website to read up on some of these things. But also if nothing else you will familiarize yourself with some of her content and with Michelle herself and you’ll know where to go and where to reach out to get this information i you do need it for a specific event or situation, too.

So I really loved having you on the show, Michelle, some excellent advice for our listeners out there in terms of, obviously anyone who’s involved in early-childhood education we hope and we know that they’re there because they love the children, they love working with children. They love seeing the development of young children. That’s why everyone gets involved in early-childhood education. But we can’t be naive and ignorant to the fact that there are a lot of regulations and compliance and safety challenges in early-childhood education and ownership or management of a childcare program. And so we have to, if we want to be seen as a profession, we have to take these issues seriously and be educated on them. And we have to do that proactively.

So I think that’s a very good message, and a message that maybe we can have you back to talk a little bit more about at some point, Michelle, because as a lawyer you obviously have a background as a professional. And I’m sure there are some interesting translations there from legal to early-childhood education. So perhaps we’ll have that opportunity again. But for the meantime, thank you so much for coming on the show, Michelle. It’s been awesome having you.


Absolutely. Thank you for having me. Hats off to HiMama. You’re doing an excellent job. There’s very few of us out there that are at the forefront as you are. And I really appreciate being a part of your family.


Thank you, Michelle, [we] appreciate it.

Ron Spreeuwenberg

Ron is the Co-Founder & CEO of HiMama, where he leads all aspects of a social purpose business that helps early childhood educators improve learning outcomes for children.

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