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I began my career in early childhood education as a family child care provider more than 13 years ago. I moved from an unrelated field in the corporate sector. Embarking on a new career as a family child care provider was very much like a journey. As I traveled, I grew as a professional by seeking a master’s degree in National Louis University’s early childhood administration program. I also met wonderful mentors who encouraged and supported my desire to grow and learn. Most importantly, I had the pleasure of opening my home and heart to many families whose challenges and triumphs still inspire me today. I remain honored and humbled by their trust.
However, when I decided to change careers and offer care and learning to children in my home, I did so equipped with little more than my good intentions and a desire to provide meaningful service to my community. As I reflect on the journey, I now realize a career change of any kind requires preparation, some packing of resources, and knowledge to ensure success. Good intentions are not enough.
In my current role as a program assessor, I have come to view family child care quality through three lenses: Process quality, structural quality, and the quality of business practices. Process quality relates to the quality of interactions in the care environment. Some indicators of structural quality are teacher education, curriculum, and materials. The quality of business practices relates to the benefits derived from the family child care business and the protections that are in place to ensure stability and sustainability. In my experience, these multiple lenses of quality are interconnected. Warm and nurturing interactions along with rich language exchanges are vital indicators of process quality, yet it is difficult to foster process quality without the foundation provided by the elements of structural quality, and without sound business practices, program viability is compromised. Many a fretful day and worried night might have been spared had I possessed this knowledge at the start of my career as a family child care provider.
It would seem that the most fruitful journeys begin when we have packed sufficiently. I now know that to create and maintain a high quality family child care business one must prepare in advance of the journey as well as while travelling. Securing a license is only the first step of the journey.
Vital next steps for the new family child care provider include:
What you need to know most is that you are not alone; family child care is a vital delivery model of care and education that exists within a long tradition community care. The more you know at the start, the better equipped you will be to fully serve the children and families in your program.
Sonja Crum Knight is an Assessor and Training Specialist for the McCormick Center for Early Childhood Leadership at National Louis University. Prior to joining the Center, Sonja worked as a family child care provider and a marketing executive in the cable television industry. She received her master’s degree in early childhood administration from National Louis University and a post graduate certification in online instruction from Roosevelt University. Sonja is currently pursuing a doctorate in education at Capella University.