By Ambata Kazi-Nance, Communications Fellow
Deneen Brown owns and operates Mommy’s Day Care, a family child care program she opened in 2007, in Norwalk, Connecticut. Deneen is the recipient of a grant from Care@Work, Care.com’s enterprise arm that provides employees of corporate clients with access to the world’s largest network of care providers for backup child and adult care and ongoing care for children, seniors, pets, and the home. Deneen was randomly selected from among the members of All Our Kin’s family child care network through a lottery program to receive $10,000 to use towards enhancing her family child care program. Deneen shares her story of how she came to family child care and how she plans to use the Care@Work grant for her program.
“My mother’s home was always a home to many, and it’s the same for me. The kids become family.”
From as early as she can remember, Deneen wanted to be a teacher. “I was always playing school with my friends,” she says, “I enjoyed applying what I learned. And that’s what I do now as a family child care educator, teaching the children what I learned.” Her introduction to family child care came from her mother, who ran her own home-based child care program. Deneen assisted her mother, and her oldest child later attended. “I loved the work,” she said. “I loved the environment, the way the children came in and took their shoes and coats off and felt so at home. My mother’s home was always a home to many, and it’s the same for me. The kids become family. After becoming a mother, family child care became a passion.” Deneen wanted to pursue child care work professionally, but began working for the UPS Corporate Office in Greenwich, Connecticut, building a career there and moving to Atlanta, Georgia in 1991 when the company relocated its headquarters.
Deneen credits the birth of her youngest child in 2004, who was born thirteen weeks premature, as the impetus to launch her own family child care program. She had returned to Connecticut in 2002 to care for her mother. While on maternity leave after giving birth to her son, Deneen cared for children in her home to supplement her income. Faced with returning to work with a newborn with special care needs, she was hesitant to enroll him in a child care center. Reflecting on the safe, loving early care and education the children in her mother’s program had received, Deneen recalled thinking, “You know what? That’s what I want to do.” Family and friends urged her to start her own business. With their support and encouragement, Deneen took the leap and began building her own family child care program.
A few years after launching Mommy’s Day Care, Deneen learned about All Our Kin’s work to support and sustain family child care professionals. At the time Deneen learned of All Our Kin, the organization had recently opened a new office serving the Stamford/Norwalk region. Eager to continue growing her knowledge and practice as an early childhood educator, Deneen enrolled in All Our Kin’s Child Development Associate (CDA) courses, taking the first step in an ongoing journey with All Our Kin.
“I feel such a sense of pride in what I do after attending All Our Kin classes. The facilitators go above and beyond to teach us and support us in our work.”
Since achieving her CDA credential, Deneen has participated in All Our Kin’s educational coaching program, through which she received one-on-one mentorship and support from an All Our Kin Education Coach to set and work towards fulfilling goals for quality enhancement. She has attended All Our Kin’s educational workshops and trainings, digging in on a wide range of topics such as: the emotional lives of toddlers; exploring nature with children; girls in books; introducing children to art and museums; and celebrating diversity through books, songs, play and the environment. Deneen says the resources and classes All Our Kin offers have had a great impact on her as a family child care educator. “I feel such a sense of pride in what I do after attending the classes,” she says. “The facilitators go above and beyond to teach us and support us in our work.” And she has engaged with peers in the All Our Kin community, coming together for a provider banquet focused on brain development and music, a spa night, and, most recently, a holiday celebration that brought together providers and kindergarten teachers, bridging the divide between the early childhood and K-12 landscapes.
Currently, Deneen and her assistant care for six children, all under the age of two. Focusing her care on younger children serves a critical need, as infant and toddler care is often in greatest demand but hardest to obtain due to high costs and limited supply. Family child care programs like Deneen’s help close this gap; they are often more affordable than center-based programs, and the intimate home-based setting allows Deneen to offer individualized care that more closely aligns with families and children’s needs. For example, Deneen works hard to accommodate families’ diverse schedules by adjusting her work hours, opening earlier or staying open later, and sometimes even meeting a parent halfway to pick up their child. It is a pleasure to help families, she says, because she knows they have other options for care, but they choose her program for their children.
“It’s a joy. The children come in the morning, and they reach for me, and their mom or dad are saying goodbye, and they say, ‘Okay, I’m alright.’”
When asked what she enjoys most about the work she does, Deneen exclaims, “Everything! The nurturing, the care, the hugs.” She also mentions the trust she builds with the children and families. “It’s a joy,” she says, “The children come in the morning, and they reach for me, and their mom or dad are saying goodbye, and they say, ‘Okay, I’m alright.’” Children in Deneen’s program know that they are safe and loved, and their parents go to work confident that their children are receiving quality early care and education in an environment that offers all the comforts of home.
The work does not come without challenges, of course, and Deneen notes that it is important for families to understand that while she is offering a service and is there to help, she is also running a business. To counter this challenge, Deneen says, “I have my program policies and procedures set, and this helps avoid conflict down the road.” Starting out, Deneen found the administrative aspect of running her own business to be tedious, but attending business classes through All Our Kin helped her develop a more professional approach. “I was winging it,” she says of her early business management, “I didn’t have a solid structure. All Our Kin helped me scale it down and streamline the process, making it more practical.”
Speaking on her goals for the children at Mommy’s Day Care, Deneen shares, “I want to make sure they are properly cared for and learning, that each child knows they are special, loved, and they can do anything, and that whatever challenges they come in with, we support them through those challenges.” Deneen prides herself on maintaining close relationships with the families she serves well beyond the years the children are in her program: “One of the children I used to care for is now fourteen, going into high school, and his family still talks about the care he received in my program.” She is not just in the business of child care; she is in the business of transforming opportunities and outcomes for young children and families.
At All Our Kin, Deneen joins peers who share this same commitment as well as a passion for lifelong learning and professional growth. Building their capacity as early childhood educators and small business owners through All Our Kin’s programming, family child care providers also form a community that reflects and empowers the warmth, support, and strength providers give to children and families every day.
“I want it to be a learning wonderland.”
With the grant from Care@Work, Deneen has plans that are both practical and enriching. She purchased her current home in Norwalk in 2017 and specifically chose one with an unfinished basement so that she could convert it into a separate space for her child care program. Thanks to Care@Work, Deneen will be able to add a half bathroom for the children’s use, which will allow for better supervision and fewer group trips upstairs to the bathroom. She is also working with a designer to renovate her educational space to personalize it for the children in her care. Deneen is eager to enhance the children’s physical environment to make it more fun and accessible, while also being intellectually and developmentally stimulating. “I want it to be a learning wonderland,” she says, “There will be mirrors on the walls, reading materials, shelves that children can reach with toys. The space will be open, so that children can roam freely and learn.”
Deneen is excited about the ways in which the Care@Work grant will allow her to run her program more efficiently and better serve the children in her care. Opening Mommy’s Day Care in 2007 was the fulfillment of Deneen’s lifelong dream, one that thanks to Care@Work and the support and encouragement she receives personally and professionally, will continue to grow in service to children and families in her community.
Care@Work by Care.com is committed to working with the most forward‐thinking companies to support the diverse family care needs of all employees. We are excited for Deneen to have this opportunity to enhance her family child care program through Care@Work’s generous grant and look forward to sharing the results of her renovation project. Stay tuned!