“Every day, I look forward to starting my day with the children—teaching them new skills, social interaction, celebrating milestones like their first step or their first word; watching them try new foods and making new friends, and all that stuff,” said Joycelyn Browne, owner of Little Ones Child Care in Dorchester.
But Browne also knows there’s more to operating a successful ECE program than the joy of helping children learn, grow, and thrive. That’s why she enrolled in our Small Business Innovation Center program, which Browne credits with teaching her “different ways of improving my business, marketing my business, different ways of teaching the kids, and creating curriculum.”
Browne added that the Small Business Innovation Center program provided her with an instant professional network of other family child care and center providers which was helpful to her as a solo business operator. “I was all by myself until I got into the program,” she said.
That network included lots of individual attention from Small Business Innovation Center staff members who offered instrumental support as Browne built up her business by creating a new website, business cards and other marketing tools.
Through the program, Browne also learned about Shared Services—whereby multiple small programs band together to share the cost of administrative tasks like accounting, purchasing, tuition collection, etc. She is now a member of the United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley’s Shared Services program, which has made purchasing program supplies more affordable for Browne. She also credited the Shared Services program with helping her to develop better program policies and improving her understanding of the MA Dept. of Early Education and Care’s regulations, policies, and procedures and how they apply to her business.
“I never knew about the United Way Shared Services program, and I love it,” said Browne. “I’m very happy about that.”
Browne, a graduate of Lesley University who has owned and operated Little Ones since 2012, offered her services as an Emergency Child Care Provider during the statewide COVID-19 shutdown in the early days of the pandemic. “I didn’t hesitate to apply to do the emergency care because I knew somewhere out there would be essential workers that needed daycare for their kids while they went to work,” she said. As the economy has slowly reopened, all of the families Browne had served prior to the pandemic have returned their children to her care.
Of course, operating an ECE program during a pandemic requires extra flexibility and caution; Browne initially adapted by switching her operating hours from 7am-5pm to 6am-4pm to better accommodate essential workers’ schedules and stopped allowing parents inside. Everyone—including children—coming inside the program is required to wear a mask and practice physical distancing. Browne said there was lots of handwashing, and she prepared meals for each child. Browne and her assistant wear masks, face shields, gloves and disposable aprons when changing diapers or having other close contact with children.
Browne has maintained these rules at Little Ones Child Care now that her pre-pandemic clientele has returned. Additionally, parents have staggered drop-off times to avoid crowding at the door and must complete a quick questionnaire regarding their family’s health/COVID-19 exposure each day. If there are “no” answers, children are not allowed into the program and must quarantine for two weeks.
At the end of the day, Browne’s advice to providers that want to re-open is that COVID-19 protocols are essentially everything providers have always done with “two or three steps more” added on.
“We’ve always worn gloves, we’ve always protected ourselves, we’ve always had the kids wash their hands when they come in and before and after meals,” she said. The biggest challenge Browne has encountered is getting children to understand and practice keeping their hands to themselves.
To that end, Browne has worked with parents to gently foster a culture of safety and hygiene in the program, asking them to remind their children daily about not touching classmates or sharing toys, which she also does. She has reinforced this safety precaution by providing children with individual bins to store their things in their own physically distanced space.
“If you love your job and you really want to help the parents that need the help, that want to go back to work, you should step up,” Browne said.
Proud of the fact that there have been no COVID-19 cases in her program during the pandemic, Browne continues to enjoy her work in these trying, uncertain times for ECE providers. “It’s something I look forward to all the time,” she said. “And working with the children and their families is very fulfilling and I couldn’t see myself doing anything else but caring for the children and working with their families.”