Driving along a quiet street in Stamford, you might not even realize that tucked away in the lower floor of one of the neighborhood residences is a bustling child care program. But Sofia Byrnes, a child care provider in All Our Kin’s Stamford-Norwalk Network, has never had trouble filling her program: her warm demeanor and her commitment to child development best practice put parents at ease as they search for quality child care for their infants and toddlers. Last year, Sofia even expanded her family child care home into a group day care home with the capacity to care for twelve children.
Today, the children are learning about their bodies.
“Where’s our heart?” Sofia asks one young boy.
“In our bodies,” he responds shyly.
“Can you show me where?”
He points to his chest. Soon, all of the children are jumping up, pointing to their chests and laughing.
“Putting smiles on these kids’ faces every day is the best part of my job,” Sofia tells me as one of her assistants begins a round of “Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.” “I’m so lucky to be doing what I love.”
“It’s our responsibility”
“In 2008, when I was in the process of searching for child care for my own son, I wanted the top of the top for him,” Sofia tells me. She toured many of the child care centers in the area and struggled to find an option that would offer the play and learning experiences she wanted for her son; she discovered that there was little consistency in the providers who would be interacting with him – “the turnaround was awful at large centers,” she recalls – and that high prices didn’t necessarily correlate with high quality. Sofia eventually decided to stay home with her son and start her own family child care program.
At the beginning, she didn’t have a family child care license, but as time went by, she realized that being licensed was an important marker of a safe, secure environment. Still, she found that licensure was only the first step in providing care that was not just safe but high quality. “Family child care providers get so little support, and there’s not much regulation of quality by the state,” she says. “That means that we have to take it upon ourselves to get training in child development and get better at our jobs. It’s our responsibility.” Sofia joined All Our Kin’s Stamford/Norwalk network a year ago, and has since participated in an Entrepreneurship Training, an Early Childhood Development series, our Read, Count, Grow program, the 2015 Family Child Care Conference, and multiple network meetings. “All Our Kin is amazing,” she says. “Every child care provider in Stamford should be a part of the All Our Kin network.”
Patience and understanding
Although Sofia’s program has grown considerably since its small beginnings, she has not forgotten what she initially struggled to find in the larger centers that she toured when looking for care for her own son: a caring environment characterized by close relationships with both children and parents. “We work so closely with the kids, and we have so much affection for them, that we have to see their parents as partners and friends. It’s not just a business relationship. I try to go the extra mile for the parents. I organize special events for them. And it pays off in the trust they have in me. When they’re worried about their kids, they call me to ask about it even before they call the doctor.”
“My greatest piece of advice to anyone who is considering becoming a child care provider is that you have to have your heart in it,” Sofia tells me at the end of my visit. “You have to have complete patience and understanding, for the parents as well as the kids. There’s no such thing as a half-hearted child care provider.”