Access to affordable, quality childcare is essential for working families. Unfortunately, the San Diego region is experiencing a shortage of childcare spaces as demand has outpaced supply, exacerbated by the pandemic.

According to the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation (San Diego Regional EDC), 66 percent of families are living in ‘childcare deserts,’ with estimates that over 500 providers have closed their doors in the past two years amid the COVID-19 crisis.

Licensed, home-based family childcare providers are an important aspect of the childcare industry, often providing an affordable and flexible childcare option for working families. While some family childcare providers receive initial assistance through government-funded grant programs, minimal resources are available to support the effective operation of a family childcare business, and they often operate on razor-thin margins.

To address the needs of home-based providers, The San Diego Foundation joined Price Philanthropies to support the Steps to Family Childcare Success (STEPS) program, an initiative that connects providers with educational content, business counselors and cultural navigators to support them through comprehensive business development and training.

Collectively, Price Philanthropies and The San Diego Foundation Early Childhood Initiative have contributed over $600,000 to establish and support the STEPS program and have engaged additional philanthropic partners as the initiative grows.

The Pilot and Partners

The STEPS pilot was launched in 2020, and is a collaboration between Chicano Federation, Horn of Africa, International Rescue Committee (IRC) and the Center for Excellence in Early Development (CEED) at San Diego State University, which conducted family childcare provider focus groups to inform the program’s design.

Each partner has a defined role:

  • Chicano Federation and Horn of Africa provide cultural navigators who are responsible for recruitment and enrollment, and act as a liaison between providers and agencies responsible for care subsidies.
  • IRC provides a comprehensive 15-week training with business counselors to help providers achieve economic self-sufficiency while strengthening their quality of care.
  • CEED’s ongoing leadership and annual evaluation provide high-quality research data to determine measurable impact, informed directly by childcare providers in City Heights.
  • Additional partners include the Women’s Business Center at Southwestern College, which offers business development support, mentorship and courses for childcare providers, primarily focused on the South Bay region.

When training is complete, business counselors work one-on-one with providers to develop business improvement plans and help them assess eligibility for small business grants. This facet of STEPS provides the business access and support that many women and minority entrepreneurs lack.

To date, 85 percent of providers have completed their business improvement plans, while more than 50 percent of providers have received state or local grants, representing more than $200,000 of capital accessed to continue serving working families.

Prioritizing Provider Feedback

STEPS’s human-centered approach incorporates each community’s unique strengths and needs, ensuring the inclusion of provider voices and culturally informed program implementation.

Cultural navigators are a key part of the STEPS program’s trust-based networks, providing mentorship, coaching and language translation support. The navigators also represent the immigrant and refugee communities served by the program.

The STEPS pilot launched at the onset of the pandemic, forcing partners to pivot to an online platform and support computer literacy and online access for providers.

While some providers expressed gratitude for the flexibility of online learning, others had trouble retaining information from the “virtual classroom.” To address these gaps, some sessions will be re-offered in-person as part of follow-up support.

The partners also recognized the importance of providing trainings in-language and expanded the cultural navigator roles to full-time positions to meet those needs. Partners continue to prioritize provider needs in assessing how to improve elements of the program, with increased options for in-person delivery for new cohorts and continued improvements to the online learning space.

Outcomes and Expansion

To date, more than 65 providers have participated in STEPS, providing essential education and childcare services to more than 275 children and their families. An additional 70 providers will be enrolled in 2022. 

“I really enjoyed learning the new materials which helped me learn a new set of skills,” shared one childcare provider affiliated with Horn of Africa. “I especially learned budgeting, booking keeping, and some computer skills because I was not comfortable with the computer before.”

In the words of one Chicano Federation-affiliated provider, who is now expanding her childcare services, “Thanks to my classes I learned to believe in myself. I applied for the big license [14 children]. I learned so much in the STEPS program.” 

With support from California Wellness Foundation, Blue Shield Foundation and other philanthropic partners, the pilot will continue to grow in City Heights while further expanding to serve additional Latinx, Afghan and Iraqi community family childcare providers in Barrio Logan and El Cajon, respectively.

By understanding the needs and preferences of the communities served, the STEPS program continues to design responsive content and inform others on how to best support the unique needs of diverse networks of family childcare providers, including those serving immigrant and refugee communities.  

“We are proud to partner with The San Diego Foundation in funding the STEPS program to support these essential childcare providers, the families they serve, and the children in their care,” Jennette Lawrence Shay, Vice President of Grantmaking for Price Philanthropies, expressed.   

Learn more about The San Diego Foundation’s Early Childhood Initiative, which aims to boost region-wide efforts to increase access to affordable, quality early care for children in San Diego, strengthening families and supporting a competitive regional workforce.