Jessica Sager is transforming and professionalizing the field of family childcare by supporting the providers in radically reimagining how they see themselves.
Die neue Idee
Jessica aims to restructure the haphazard and inadequate systems that provide early child care in this country and replace them with competent, integrated systems of secure, skilled professionals who meet the diverse needs of our diverse families, particularly in low-‐income communities.
Jessica has identified family child care providers as a key leverage point for improving outcomes in underserved communities. With training, support, and tools, the care providers in the All Our Kin network are able to achieve twin goals. They can provide quality nurturing and educational environments for developing children, while also honing their business skills and earning a good living.
All Our Kin's research has shown that one of the strongest indicators of quality in a childcare provider is whether that provider feels that she has a choice in joining the profession and intends to remain in the field of childcare long-‐term or permanently. Jessica works to change the way family caregivers are viewed from a model where they are "babysitters" to one where they are "teachers" and gain that sense of professionalism both in their self-‐ concept and in the way society views them. On an individual level, this sense of professionalism empowers people to be better caretakers and more confident economically. On a societal level, viewing family child care providers as professionals means compensating them, supporting them, and involving them in policy discussions, all beneficial outcomes for the people who do this work and for society as a whole, which benefits from a robust and high-‐quality family child care workforce.
The program has far-‐reaching social and economic benefits. Access to quality, flexible, community-‐based childcare allows parents to work to support their families while trusting that their children are learning and growing. Meanwhile, being cared for by providers who know how to nurture, teach, and help build school-‐ readiness skills helps children build the foundation for school success and ultimately better lives.
All Our Kin started out first as a laboratory school in New Haven, Connecticut training mothers who received welfare benefits to become quality childcare providers. At the time, President Clinton had recently and dramatically changed welfare law, so that in order to continue receiving benefits, all individuals had to be working or in job training programs, even those with very young children. Jessica built this job-‐training program centered around childcare so these mothers would be able to remain with their children while enrolled and working in a job-‐training program that allowed them to keep their benefits, simultaneously increasing the supply of available childcare to meet the increased demand caused by the changes in welfare. Later, they built the beginnings of the All Our Kin provider support network for their graduates, but large numbers of people who came to the profession from a route other than the laboratory school were clamoring for similar supports, and so they ultimately pivoted their program, closing the laboratory school and focusing their resources on building a network that could support and professionalize family childcare providers on a larger scale. Now All Our Kin runs a thriving multi-city network that supports the largely female workforce of informal child care providers in not just becoming licensed but reaching their fullest potential as both nurturing teachers of children and professional, financially-‐secure small business owners.
Over the last 18 years, Jessica’s high-‐touch model has grown to support 400 caregivers and 2,000 children per year in Connecticut and is beginning to spread to other communities, starting with New York. In that model, childcare providers have access to community support, toolkits, materials, zero-‐interest small business loans, a yearly conference, and other resources to support their professional development in the areas of both childcare and business. They track outcomes in three main ways. One is childcare availability, which has decreased in Connecticut overall but increased by 74% in New Haven, where All Our Kin began, as a result of their work Another is childcare quality-‐ All Our Kin providers score 50% higher on research-‐based measurements of quality than unaffiliated providers, and particularly high in the areas that most influence children's social-‐emotional development. A third
outcome is provider earnings-‐ 75% of providers earned at least $5,000 dollars more their first year working with All Our Kin. In addition to increasing provider revenue, All Our Kin's model of flexible, supportive, community-‐ rooted childcare allows parents to work and be reliably present at work, increasing family incomes. Between parent and provider incomes, All Our Kin's work puts $15-‐20 dollars back into the community for every dollar they spend.
Launching more sites alone will not allow All Our Kin to reach their vision of transforming child care options for families across the country.. To meet this need, All Our Kin is building capacity to train other community organizations across the country in best practices and the All Our Kin model, building on existing community strengths and ensuring that the model reaches thousands more children. They are in effect "training the trainers" to come into provider's homes and model, observe, and reflect with them on how to provide the best care and enrich their business model. All Our Kin is also experimenting with virtual coaching and sharing curricula in order to reach more providers and the communities in which they work, ultimately improving childcare options for tens of thousands of children and their families.
At the state and national level, Jessica uses All Our Kin's stories, data, and strong track record to communicate with policymakers and thought leaders. Jessica wants state and national leaders to recognize the key role home-‐based providers have in providing flexible, culturally competent care for children and their families. Jessica amplifies the voices of these providers, a crucial part of any discussion of systems for supporting childcare. She also emphasizes the economic benefits of supporting these small businesses. She has successfully swayed policymakers to increase childcare funding and structure regulations in a way that supports providers. She remains dedicated to the larger mission of changing society's perspective on childcare, making it a much more valued industry, with better paid providers and broader access for every parent and child. All children need and deserve the highest-‐quality care we as a society can give them.
Jessica's early life was shaped by exposure to her mother, a civil rights activist and a lawyer who battled employment discrimination. She was also a caregiver for a family member, who had significant emotional and physical challenges, which gave her insight into how limited the supports available for those children and their caregivers really are.
As a student, her passions were literature and theater. In college, she had a job with an arts organization, helping children in public schools across New York City write and perform their own plays. After college, she was working as a professional actor, travelling across the country in a mini-‐van, playing Beth in a production of Little Women. Two months in, in the middle of rural Michigan, the minivan lost control in the rain. The van flipped over and rolled down a ravine, landing upside down. She crawled out through a broken window and found herself standing on a hillside in a strange place in the rain, in silence, alone. It was in that moment that she thought, “What am I willing to die for?” and remembered those kids back in New York. She soon applied to law school, to become a lawyer to fight for the rights of children.
Around the same time as she began law school, President Clinton changed the law, requiring parents on cash assistance to join job training programs or lose their benefits, even if those parents were home taking care of very young children. In addition, more and more professional women were demanding the right to greater flexibility and more time with their children, to be workers and mothers too. And yet, the new laws were making poor women choose between their children’s healthy development and their family’s economic survival. The laboratory school was a clever solution to this complicated problem and, over the last 18 years, has morphed
into what All Our Kin is today: a growing national network of professional, exceptional home-‐based childcare providers.