Shared Services for the child care industry is emerging as a successful strategy to enable programs serving children to improve their bottom line while increasing the quality of their programs. New state regulations and other additional requirements have made it imperative that program leaders find creative ways to address growing needs in order to maintain a viable business. A Shared Services Alliance or Network is a community-based partnership, comprised of centers and/or family child care homes, working together to share costs such as bookkeeping, billing and collections, purchasing, insurance, access to nurses, mental health consultants and substitutes, and capacity to apply for grant funding. Participants in an Alliance become stronger, more efficient, more financially sound, and better able to deliver high-quality child care services.
Most importantly, sharing resources frees early childhood professionals from time-consuming administrative tasks and financial burdens, allowing them to focus on what they do best—providing young children with the high quality experiences essential to their development.
Between August of 2013 and December 2016, Vermont Birth to Five (VB5) and supporting partners completed the discovery phase of this project and implementation of pilot projects began. Shared Services presentations were offered at each Building Bright Futures council statewide and early childhood leaders with strong interest in participating in the development of the work were identified. The system was defined as having two distinct parts:
SharedServicesVT.org is a customized web platform that acts as a one stop shopping spot for program resources and discounts, both national and local, to Vermont. The site includes parent handbook templates, newsletter templates, budget forms, and more, all in Microsoft Word format to make them easily editable for use in any program. In addition, the website offers access, at a click of a button, to Vermont child care licensing regulations, the Vermont Early Learning Standards, the STep Ahead Recognition System (STARS) and a STARS toolkit, and Act 166 Early Education Funding guidelines. If your regulated early care and learning program participates in STARS, or if you work with a VB5 mentor, your program and all staff members are eligible for access to www.SharedServicesVT.org at no cost. We encourage providers to use the services available and to let us know which resources and discounts are particularly helpful.
2. Shared Services Regional Support
Four pilot networks, comprised of 46 participating programs, both center and home based, met monthly for two years. The programs agreed to be a participant, in good standing, in STARS, committed to sharing Shared Services VT information and benefits with peers in the field, visit the Shared Services VT website to consider all that is offered on the website, and to use the vendors and resources listed to the extent that the services on the website benefit the program. In addition, members agreed to update and share the website and regional benefits and discounts with staff members in their programs as they become available. Members became ambassadors of the system and assisted VB5 in identifying what worked and what did not. Regional supports and discounts including discounted insurance, heating fuel, cell phone costs, and local store discounts were provided to participants in exchange for review and feedback. In December of 2016, a report was compiled to identify lessons learned through the pilots and to develop next steps:
As we move into the spring of 2017, the shared services work of VB5 will use the lessons of the last three years and will begin to be more strategic in focus, with an eye toward changing the mindset of early care and learning professionals who direct these businesses. The sustainability of our wonderful small programs, both center based and family child care, depends on the women who run these businesses embracing practices that will support their programs in the increasingly complicated world of running a child care business in VT. One specific strategy planned is the development of hub and spoke networks in limited areas of the state creating a model that can be expanded to additional regions. In addition, the development of a menu of statewide benefits is a priority.
For information about Shared Services, please contact LouAnn Beninati (802-578-5087 | Email).