Recognizing Women-Owned Child Care Businesses in Georgia
You might not see them on Shark Tank or in a TED talk, but for decades, Georgia’s women child care program owners have been building an industry that sets children on a path to succeed and enables parents to pursue work and educational opportunities. As we prepare to celebrate National Women’s Small Business Month in October, Quality Care for Children (QCC) wanted to highlight this incredibly important, and underappreciated, group of women business leaders.
First and foremost, however, we must remind our readers that child care programs are, in fact, businesses. Child care professionals are neither babysitters, nor are the programs part of a publically funded education system. Whether a nonprofit or for-profit program, home provider or a large center, all struggle with the same challenges that any small business faces – cash flow, staffing, regulatory compliance, financing, payment collections, and customer service among many others. And like any small business owner, these individuals work long hours and take on multiple roles to ensure their business’ success, from managing payroll to stepping in to change diapers when needed.
Now that we have established child care programs are businesses, let’s take a look at the industry itself which is overwhelmingly led by women:
Approximately 93% of child care centers and 97% of child care homes in Georgia are women-owned
In Metro Atlanta, there are an estimated 2,005 women-owned child care businesses that are licensed to care for more than 171,100 infants and toddlers
In Georgia, the early care and education industry generates approximately $4.7 billion each year (just as much as the pharmaceutical and manufacturing industries) and employs more than 67,500 workers
Nationally, nearly 90% of the 629,000 child care programs are women-owned and its workforce is 96% women
Despite the size and tremendous leadership by women in this industry, child care businesses rarely receive much attention outside of the early childhood education field. In many ways, we have taken for granted the critical services they provide and the personal and professional sacrifices they have made to provide their care to our communities.
Long before terms like “social enterprise” existed, entrepreneurial women in our community have been starting and running child care programs whose benefits go far beyond their primary purpose of caring for children. In addition to providing quality early learning experiences that prepare children for success in school, child care programs also help feed our children nutritious meals, enable parents to pursue careers and education, and employ tens of thousands of other women.
For nearly 40 years, QCC has been working with women-led child care businesses throughout Georgia. Last year QCC helped women-owned child care businesses by providing 500+ free trainings and leadership workshops, quality improvement consulting support to 800+ programs, $600,000+ worth of quality improvement grants, nutritious meals to 600+ child care programs serving low-income families, and business resources and discounts to 600+ programs. The inspiration and determination we continue to see by the women in the early learning field is truly remarkable. Below are several snapshots of the many women working day in day out to impact children, families, and our communities.
To be very clear, child care is not a “women’s issue.” We must, however, recognize the indispensable leadership of the thousands of women that have built the early learning industry to care for our children during the most important period of their lives. Rather than seek money or recognition, these selfless women business leaders have dedicated their lives to the simple purpose of providing learning experiences to young children to give them the best chance of succeeding in school and in life. And in doing so, they have impacted these children for generations to come, enabled parents to work, created jobs for thousands of child care workers, and generated billions of dollars for the economy. We cannot think of a women-led industry that has created such value and is more worthy of our recognition, gratitude, and support.
In 2006 I came from Puerto Rico, where I lived and worked for 6 years in a Middle school, I started looking for a job here in Georgia and I accidentally went to work at a Learning Center, with babies, because I knew no English, little by little I realized I could teach them Spanish and I was so passionate until 1 year later I decided to start my own business.
Advice for other women child care business owners: I would advise them to continue to change the world through the education they provide to their children. That they continue to feel that regardless of earning a salary for what they do that they are a real impact on the lives of these children, because the first years of a children's life are a great responsibility for their future
I am the founder, owner, and director of Grand Magnolia Early Learning Center. I started Grand Magnolia in August 2017 after moving to Atlanta from Virginia. In Virginia, I had had been a stay at home mom for my four (now adult) children, returned to the classroom to teach for 20 years, and eventually earned my doctorate in education with an emphasis on curriculum and instruction. As a public school teacher with certifications in special education, I was able to develop programs to serve individual students and support their growth and development. I felt like I reached the pinnacle of my career as an educator after receiving my doctoral degree by being able to incorporate cutting edge, research-driven approaches to improve outcomes for all students. When I became a grandparent, I felt even more invested in understanding early learning and development - particularly young children’s phenomenal neurodevelopmental and infinite capacity to acquire and synthesize information. Put simply - children are like super computers with endless abilities to learn and grow! I was fascinated watching my grandchildren develop and felt compelled to support their early learning experience. When Agnes Scott College formed a committee seeking to explore the possibility of starting an early learning center on their campus, it was a wonderful opportunity to translate my vision into a brick and mortar center to serve not only my grandchildren, but the broader community.
Advice for other women child care business owners: I would encourage other women-led childcare business to tap into a supportive network. I value the opportunity to mentor young women who will be the next generation of leaders in their fields and in early learning. I think it’s vital that we support one another and encourage individuals who are new in this field.
My mom had an in home daycare when I was in middle school for a couple of years. I’ve always loved children and would have loved to be an owner but never thought it was possible. The owner of the daycare my daughter was attending was telling me about this daycare that was for sale and we starting looking into and just went with it.
Advice for other women child care business owners: It’s not easy, stick to it, you can do it!
I went to college and got a BBA in Business Management from UGA with the intent of being a manager and hopeful owner of a childcare center. I got a job right out of college as an Assistant Director. I worked my way up to Regional Business Manager and had the opportunity to be a partner in a childcare center. After a few years, my partner and I went our separate ways and I sold my shares to him. I used the settlement to buy my own childcare center, Friendship Learning Center, in Buford. My husband and I bought our second location in 2017 in Tucker.
Advice for other women child care business owners: I think being a woman puts you at an advantage in a childcare center. Your staff is primarily female and the mothers of your students can relate to you better as a woman and a fellow mom. You are setting an example to the women in your center of how you can be a successful woman leader.
Dr. Joanie Marks
After working in Corporate America and utilizing the Business Management and Accounting degree I had obtained, I knew there was something greater for me to do. I wanted to run a Charter School for students who struggle in school educationally and behaviorally but was under the radar for Special Education. Educators run in my family, as all my sisters and numerous cousins are teachers. I prayed, and I went back to school and received a Master’s in Education and became a middle teacher in 1997, I was concerned that so many children reached middle school without the necessary basic skills and the ability to read. Most of my students did not have IEPs so my goal was to ensure that their reading levels increased before they left my class. Leaving the middle school setting in 2003, I became an Instructional Lead Teacher and opened an elementary school on the south end of Atlanta. The school became a National Title I Elementary School, but the concern was still the number of children entering elementary school without basic skills. I progressed to an administrative position in the school, but still I yearned to do more. When the opportunity came to become the owner of a childcare center, I wanted it to be more than just a “daycare”, but an educational institution where we nurture our children from 6 weeks to love learning and become life-long learners.
Advice for other women child care business owners: For any business owner, I believe it is important to know your craft. I am present daily and spend time with my teachers and children in the classroom to ensure they are implementing the goals for the age group they teach. I talk to my parents about their children’s progress and if there are any areas the child may not be as proficient as their peers, we use researched best practices to assist the parent at home, and the teacher at school.
Maria Claudia Ortega
I'm the owner and I've been working at my family child care program for 18 years. I decided to enter the early childhood education field after getting my Bachelor’s Degree in Early Education in Columbia. All of us who immigrate to this country know the challenges we have to face, the language, the customs, and the work. In my mind, I always aimed to get back on track in my career. I started to work as an assistant in a daycare where I learned about regulations and acquired experience that helped me achieve the goal of having my own business after two years of work. Thank God I met Mrs. Sandra Ramsey with Quality Care for Children (QCC), who guided me, and gave me all the support and resources to become state licensed. Since then, thanks to all the programs and opportunities that QCC has offered to improve the quality and professionalism of the Hispanic women, I have been able to maintain the required quality and be in compliance.
I am passionate about early learning because this is the kind of teaching that allows me to see results on a daily basis helping children achieve their development milestones and grow healthy. The best part of my business is that it is the place where I can put into practice my knowledge, my experience, and make my dream come true; educate Geniuses for the word accompanied and guided by their families.
Advice for other women child care business owners: First, to be persistent, to not be discouraged because the process is not easy. They will find many obstacles, but there is always a solution for everything. The other advice I would provide is that they maintain their level of education by attending workshops and conferences, to not fear language barriers, and to become members of associations that share the same ideals and objectives to educate with love.
I am an Early Childhood Program Administrator at Little Ones Learning Center and have been operating in a leadership capacity since 1995, when my mother purchased the business, and I was 20 years old. I always knew I wanted to work with kids. I come from a very long line of health care and medical professionals and my father was a primary care physician. I always thought I would be a pediatrician. In my sophomore year at Emory University, I took a class on the development of classical education in America. I was intrigued. I felt a path in education was more fitting than following the path of my father, who said if I followed him, I would lead a life of financial comfort, and if I followed my mother's path, I would be broke. My mother had recently purchased Little Ones Learning Center in Forest Park, Georgia and that was the beginning. Even more special was the fact that my mother did not purchase a center in an affluent area- we lived in Roswell at the time - but my mother made it her mission to make a difference and chose an area which is under-resourced.
Advice for other women child care business owners: Identify a mentor. Get around some folks who are doing what you are doing and connect. It is common to experience burn out from time to time. You will burn out quicker and the rebound will take longer if you do not have a network of peers you can relate to. Even if it's just touching base periodically or putting in a quick call to ask a question. Find some folks you admire and connect. We always tend to think about competition and maintaining high enrollment and that is justified. But you can connect and elevate with others without being in fear. Sometimes vulnerability leads to elevation!
I had my son in February of 1983. He was with me the first year at my office. The company decided to move and I didn’t want to go so he ended up in day care when I changed positions. He was in 4 different day care centers within the following year and each one had issues. Issues that could have been prevented if the staff were doing their jobs. So my husband and I talked and I started the day care so I could be home with our son. In 1987 our daughter died an hour after she was born so I made the decision to stay home until our son no longer needed me. As a result I became determined to make this as good a childcare/career as possible. So I began taking training so I could give the children the best beginning possible while making it affordable for the families. I learned that I needed a license to care for more than two children and that there were requirements that needed to be met so I met, and exceeded, them. My first trainers were Ann Zavikowski (Family to Family), Nancy Travis and Joe Perrault (How to Start a Family Child Care and Contracts and Policies), and Tom Copeland. As a result I became the Owner/Director/Lead Teacher for Huggy Bear Day Care. Save The Children (now Quality Care for Children) gave me a great start and Quality Care for Children has been a Godsend to me over the years. I believe my beginning is why I’m still going strong today after over 30 years of caring, educating, and loving the children. I am passionate about early learning because I believe in the kids and the fact that they deserve the best start possible. They are so much more than people give them credit for. I like to think that with all of my years of experience that I can give them a foundation that will support them for the rest of their lives.
I got into the early childhood education field 28 years ago. I had children and wanted to be home with them and prepare them for school. I also wanted to help other parents who were struggling to find and afford child care. Maintaining my daycare, knowing that children need to learn and require love and compassion, is my way of giving back to my community.
I am the owner/director of Teach the Children Early Center, a Family Child Care Learning Home and entered the field of Early Childhood Education in 2008. As a mother of seven children, I enjoyed spending time with family. While working in retail sales, my full-time position was downsized to part-time and I needed to supplement my income. A family friend needed weekend care for his daughter and I offered to help. I enjoyed caring for her and I began to explore the business of family child care. I attended my first workshop at Quality Care for Children on “How to Start A Family Child Care Business,” acquired the mandatory training hours, received first aid training, joined a local association, submitted my application to DECAL, and have been in business ever since.