Educator Emma Villa’s Story: Home Child Care Providers Struggling to Survive

Emma Villa has been running Emma’s Home Daycare for almost 20 years out of her Providence home. Originally from Mexico, Emma has always had a passion for teaching.

“Parents sometimes come in with the misconception that home child care providers are ‘just babysitters,’ and I’m proud to change their perspective,” said Emma. “They see that I’m an educator, helping their child learn in a safe, loving environment. I teach them developmentally appropriate skills that create an educational foundation for the rest of their life.”

Before the pandemic, Emma’s business was thriving, and she often had a long waitlist. Since the start of the pandemic, enrollment has fluctuated dramatically. Many parents in Emma’s community rely on Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) subsidies to pay for childcare, and even small raises and extra income from working overtime can mean that families lose the assistance they rely on to pay for child care. If a family no longer meets eligibility requirements, they cannot afford the cost of child care on their own. Families have to look for other options (often unlicensed) or figure out how to reduce their income so they can retain their CCAP subsidy. When families cannot afford the payments for her program and don’t qualify for CCAP, Emma has to look for another child to enroll in her program who has a family eligible for CCAP.

“At one point during the pandemic, I had only one child attending for seven months, while I still had to pay for the operating costs for my program.. It’s not sustainable, especially when the cost of everything else–basic living expenses, gasoline, safety protocols–has gone up.” Statewide data show that the number of families with a child care subsidy is at an all time low. Since 2019, the number of families who have qualified for a child care subsidy is down 42%.

Although Emma’s classroom is still only at half capacity, she was able to stay in business through the financial hardships of the last few years due to pandemic relief funds. She considers herself “one of the lucky ones,” but doesn’t know how she’ll stay open if the current funding system doesn’t change.

“Home child care providers are in serious trouble. With less spots to fill, we are vulnerable to economic fluctuations than larger centers. With less options for funding streams coming in, we have less of a safety net when families leave,” said Emma. “It’s a demanding job, with little financial reward. We enter this profession because we love working with children, but then we often don’t have access to a decent quality of life for ourselves.”

Emma encourages legislators to increase eligibility for CCAP, so that families are able to continue to access child care even as the cost of living continues to rise and families must earn more to support themselves. In addition to ensuring that families maintain access to child care, Emma encourages legislators to ensure that child care providers are able to keep their doors open by increasing funding and reimbursement rates, and providing support so home child care providers can access crucial grants. Emma says better compensation for home child care would allow providers to enjoy paid time off and adequate health insurance coverage, including mental health coverage. She stresses that supporting the health and wellbeing of the workforce is crucial to ensuring that families are able to find qualified providers who are well-equipped to care for their children.

“The current child care system doesn’t meet the needs of families or child care providers. Costs go up, and nothing significantly changes in how providers are compensated or reimbursed,” said Emma. “If increasing numbers of families can’t afford care and providers can’t afford to stay open, then what happens to all those kids? They’re missing out on high quality child care, and falling behind before they even enter school. It sets up future generations for failure.”