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Childcare that Works for Everyone

By Elayne Bender

Childspace Cooperative Development, Inc. (CCDI) in Philadelphia, PA, is setting an industry standard in the work to improve childcare by improving job quality for childcare workers.

Childspace grew from the needs of an economically stressed community to provide high quality, affordable care for their children. An innovative approach has made it a model for “high road” management. Features such as democratic decision making, higher-than-industry-average pay and benefits, and career growth opportunities have led to increased job satisfaction and low staff turnover.

Building ownership

A core principle of Childspace, which also includes three childcare centers and a for-profit management company (CMG), is that the most powerful path to quality jobs begins with worker ownership.

CCDI was established in 1995 as the non-profit arm of Childspace, focusing on development, training and advocacy. CCDI staff may run for seats on the board of directors and are eligible for all employee benefits.

Childspace workers own shares in the business—meaning that they own a share of the value of the business itself, including any assets such as the building that houses the center and a bus used to transport children on trips.

If someone leaves the co-op, it has three years to pay off the value of that person's internal account. The value of this account varies depending on the annual deposits made. These in turn are based on any surplus income above budgeted expenses.

Building advocacy

Yvonne Thompson-Friend, CCDI's executive director, emphasizes the group's commitment to the work and the workers. “We want to strengthen the individual and collective voices of childcare workers, so they can be their own best advocates,” Ms. Thompson-Friend states. Leadership development, business training and advocacy programs put CCDI's mission into action. The knowledge that childcare employers need resources to provide both good jobs and good care, that workers benefit from personal and professional improvement opportunities, and that the public and policy makers must be educated about the need for additional resources in the childcare industry, drive the mission forward.

CCDI takes an active role in advocacy. This also helps empower women to act beyond the workplace. As worker-owners with a heightened sense of self-esteem, many participants in CCDI's programs have become community leaders, and have testified before state and federal legislators. In May, centers sponsored a legislative forum and invited staff from nearby child care programs. The Childspace policy committee (two staff from each center) organized the event and teachers prepared questions for the legislators.

Building assets

Workers are eligible to enroll in seminars on leadership, financial management, and asset-building. The “Child Care Workers IDA Program” operates a unique matched savings program that provides workers the opportunity to build assets, something that is traditionally unavailable to workers with low incomes. A worker deposits at least $22 a month in an Individual Development Account; after one or two years these savings are matched to use towards buying a home, making home improvements or for education. A support component helps workers learn more about how to plan and achieve long-term financial goals.

Another key part of the organization's mission is to raise awareness and help others benefit from the lessons Childspace has learned; CCDI provides consulting services to organizations and communities who want to establish childcare co-ops in order to raise the quality of the childcare experience for children, families, workers and directors.

Firmly rooted in the ideals of democratic values, cooperative management, and the inclusion of all parties at the table, CCDI continues to advance the cause of quality early childhood education. To learn more call (215) 842-3050 or email: ytfriend@childspacecdi.org.

Elayne Bender, MS, is a community advocate and consultant to CCDI; thanks to CCDI trainer and organizer Janet Filante for help on this article.


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