It was 1999, and Marie had just learned that she was pregnant with her fourth child. Two of her young children were in school, and the third was in full-day child care while Marie worked as a Computer Aided Design (CAD) Operator. She went back to work shortly after her daughter was born, but soon found that she couldn’t afford the cost of full-time child care for her two youngest children. Within six months, Marie made the difficult decision to quit her job.
She began working as an informal caregiver, looking after her own children as well as her niece and nephews while her sister was working. At first, she says, she was mainly “worrying about the kids having a safe place to be while their parents were working.” But over time she began wondering if it would be possible for her to “make something more” of her work. How could she go beyond ensuring that children were safe, healthy, and well cared for?
Enter All Our Kin. After speaking with All Our Kin staff, Marie realized she could open her own child care program and provide more children in need with responsive caregiving and a nurturing early learning environment. Better yet, she didn’t have to be alone in the process. Through the Tool Kit Licensing Program, which All Our Kin operates in collaboration with the Connecticut Children’s Museum, Marie transformed her finished basement, which was previously unused space, into a warm, welcoming environment for children to learn. She prepared for a career in early childhood education by coming to All Our Kin for workshops and trainings and working closely with Paula, All Our Kin’s Senior Educational Consultant.
Over time, Marie’s conception of her own role as an early childhood educator shifted. When she started, she says, she wasn’t initially focused on the educational possibilities in her work. “I wanted my family around me, I wanted them to be safe, and I wanted to have fun with them,” she says. But now she’s committed to doing more with the children in her care. “‘How do I help this child?’—that’s how I am now,” she says. “I’m excited to watch the children grow and transition from one stage of development to the next,” Marie adds, “seeing their expressions as they ‘get it,’ understanding for the first time.”
Marie herself mirrors the commitment to continuous learning that she instills in the children she teaches. “The trainings, workshops, and guidance—I can’t get enough of that,” she says in talking about her network of support at All Our Kin. “No matter how long you’ve been doing this, it always helps to have a refresher.”
Over the past decade, All Our Kin has supported Marie as she has built her program, Butterfly Child Care, into a sustainable business that meets her family’s financial needs while providing reliable, affordable care to some of her neighborhood’s most-at risk children. As a provider in All Our Kin and the United Way of Greater New Haven’s Early Head Start (EHS) program, Marie receives All Our Kin’s support in meeting federal standards of quality. She says she “like[s] the challenge” of participating in the EHS program. She is proud of the meaningful early learning experiences she is able to give young children and of the partnerships she has built with their parents as they work to build a more stable life for their families.
Looking forward, Marie has numerous goals, particularly around improving her program space. Today, her cozy basement is full of books, colors, and even a decorative fireplace that Marie created. She envisions one day having a fenced-in yard with a colorful playground. She’d also like to make her space handicap-accessible so that she can welcome parents and children of varying physical abilities. To those considering entering the field of early childhood as a family child care provider, Marie suggests, “[b]efore becoming a provider you should get a sense of what you need and how to go about preparing.” “You’re not a babysitter,” she cautions, “You can’t just turn on the TV.”
Stories like Marie’s show us what unique and important sources of strength family child care programs are in our communities. Support for these programs is crucial to the women who find meaningful careers as providers, the parents who find a reliable partner and advocate for their child, and the children who learn and grow in these neighborhood-based programs. All Our Kin is proud to nurture and sustain programs like Marie’s, helping them develop into vibrant resources in our communities.