Family child care providers understand the need for technology, but providing support and training is key to increasing adoption
Alicia Quitel remembers her father saying, “someday computers will rule the world.” Back then, she had no interest in or patience for learning how to type. But now, like many home-based family child care providers, she feels an urgency to catch up to technology to improve and sustain her home-based business, Alicia’s Family Child Care.
Use of technology can help business owners become more successful, efficient and profitable. Yet, in a historically underfunded industry like child care, some family care providers struggle to adopt these to new ways of doing business.
The United In Care pilot program is encouraging a technology tide change for participating providers by helping equip them with the tools, training, and professional development to take their business to the next level.
The program, created and led by United Way of Northern New Jersey, includes four networks in Warren, Morris, Gloucester, and Hudson counties. These networks are comprised of an established child care center serving as a hub resource for a group of five to 10 home-based providers, also called Family Child Care providers (FCCs).
This shared services network model is designed to increase access to quality, affordable and flexible child care in New Jersey, with a focus on helping providers enhance their programs and gain greater stability.
A PATCHWORK OF SOLUTIONS
Affording technology devices is difficult for many child care providers, who too often struggle to cover their family’s basic expenses. They often fall into the ALICE® (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) demographic. When they have technology, they struggle to find time to familiarize themselves with business programs and learn how to effectively utilize the devices.
Prior to engagement in United In Care, many FCCs simply used their mobile phones to run their business. Providers like Alicia previously relied on manual methods and duplicative phone apps to collect payments. It’s not unusual for her to receive payments by Venmo, CashApp, or cash in hand throughout the week – whatever is easier for parents. This created a mess of her business records.
Some still use paper forms for other managerial tasks, and then employ their tech-savvy children to help digitize the documents needed to support and maintain their business.
Michelle Roers, Senior Vice President of Strategies for ALICE, says that adopting technology helps to create business efficiencies ultimately giving providers time back, while also creating higher levels of professionalism, communication with parents and care for their clients. Furthermore, there are opportunities to build increased business sustainability by utilizing technology apps, for example tracking enrollment and fee collection.
USING TECHNOLOGY TO INCREASE PROFESSIONALISM
“Our aim is to lift childcare providers and help them gain the professional recognition and stature that they deserve. Sometimes that starts with the self,” says Roers. “They are doing such important work… truly setting the foundation, the building blocks for so many children. Yet raising the bar of professionalism is hard when you don’t have access technology and/or the skills to use technology.”
This is why every provider who participates in United In Care receives a laptop, printer, tablet, and a business email account. The equipment allows providers to access applications like Microsoft Office and ProCare, a more popular childcare management software program. Programs like these helps providers track payments and automate the check-in/pick-up process for parents. United In Care supports training and a one-year subscription to ProCare to help providers acclimate to regular use.
Adopting technology and upscaling professional business practices can be overwhelming and scary for many home-based providers, according to Damaris Ygnacio, the owner of First Steps Child Care of Hackettstown. Before working with United In Care, she says she felt lost and unsure how to incorporate technology into her program to keep up with industry regulations.
“As a small business, sometimes we don’t know if we really need it,” she says of the technology. “But clearly it’s been a big help too!”
FROM FLUSTERED TO FEARLESS
Even for those who must overcome steep learning curves, most providers intrinsically believe in the benefits of technology and tools like ProCare. Parents and other providers who endorse these tools can also help convince hesitant providers.
Thankfully, there are enough resources to ease the technological transition and the United In Care network has helped provide support, according to Cynthia Russell, owner of Mrs. Cynthia Cares. For example, regular network Zoom meetings help providers in the program learn, troubleshoot, and sometimes commiserate with the use of technology. Technology brings the network together, and the network provides them with a sense of community, so no one feels alone.
Cynthia says she wants to use technology to focus on more substantial projects, like creating business policies using ProCare and NJ Shared Resources, templates. She’s also using the app to market her services with her new-found efficiencies and communication. When the time is right, she plans to design and send a newsletter to parents within the app.
As soon as Jonte Johnson opened Discovering Minds Learning Center in Glassboro, she immediately signed up for Procare. Today, she uses it to manage daily enrollment and communicate with parents what the kids are learning and eating and how often they’re getting changed.
“In our world now, it’s all technology,” Johnson says.
Before using a management software program, Ygnacio created manual receipts, which made it difficult to gauge her business’s growth. After adopting ProCare, the app's payment processing function proved that her business was indeed growing and helped her spot and prove a missing payment, saving her an awkward conversation with a parent.
Ygnacio credits the United In Care training, which helped her practice using the app until she felt more comfortable. Once she saw the potential of using technology in her business, she became a believer.
“Procare has saved me money, but it has also saved me a lot of time – and I need time more than money at this point,” she says. “I feel like my kids need me more. Whatever can give me five minutes, I’ll take that.”