When is the "big business" of child care too big for our little kids?
As a family child care provider and entrepreneur of sorts, I know that parents depend on me to support their families and to make sure their young children begin school ready to learn.
On a typical day, I take care of eight kids, who range in age from an infant to an 11-year-old. Holidays, Saturdays, every day of the week―I am there for these families. My work week goes far beyond 40 hours. I don't mind this because I enjoy working with children, and it's so rewarding to watch them grow up.
But as much as I love my work I can see that the child care system in this country is in crisis. A lot of families are having a hard time finding child care they can afford. Providers like me are being driven out of the business because so many of us have no health insurance and no sick days and have to work two jobs to make ends meet.
Now Bain Capital, a giant corporate buyout firm that buys and sells companies to make a profit, is getting into the business! Bain Capital just bought the third largest for-profit child care chain in the country, Bright Horizons, for $1.3 billion. This friendly takeover is costing Bright Horizons tens of millions in up-front fees and annual "management" fees. More important, it is saddling the company with what even its executives admit is a "substantial" new debt of $850 million.
What does this have to do with the quality of child care at Bright Horizons centers?
Residents at nursing homes bought by private investment firms were worse off on almost all benchmarks of their health and well-being, on average, than under previous owners, according to a September investigative report in The New York Times.
When buyout firm KKR took over Bright Horizons rival Kinder Care chain, they replaced its CEO, a leading child care expert, with someone whose main qualification was a prior stint managing a hotel chain. And during KKR's years in control of Kinder Care, one St. Paul center tallied 73 license violations over several years, including one confirmed case each of child abuse and child neglect.
Just like any other company, Bain has a right to make a profit―but not at the expense of young children! Bain Capital's dealmakers now have the power to make decisions that affect 16,000 teachers nationwide and tens of thousands of young children and their families. The question is, will Bain Capital's improve access, quality, and compensation, or will they enact cost cutting measures that harm the quality of child care services?
Child care providers like me are joining together with parents, teachers, community advocates, and others who have been working to improve the quality of child care, and we are calling on Bain Capital to commit to providing quality child care at Bright Horizons Centers. We are going to make sure Bain Capital moves Bright Horizons forward, not backward. Among other elements of quality child care, Bain Capital's management should ensure that Bright Horizons centers:
*do not shut down
*expand or maintain their capacity
*employ skilled, well-compensated teachers
*maintain a stable workforce
*maintain safe staffing ratios
*support and reward education and training for teachers
*provide a safe and stimulating physical environment
*establish reasonable and affordable parent fees.