From Substitute Teacher to Business Owner: A Family Child Care Home Provider Shares Her Story

Arleen Lambert never thought that she would one day operate a family child care home (FCCH). What began as a favor for a friend who needed a substitute teacher turned into a life changing experience. She loved working with children in a home-centered environment and decided to open a FCCH program of her own.

Arleen, who is a native of Trinidad, explained: “At first it was difficult, but I refused to quit. Operating an FCCH is owning your own business and you need to find a work-life balance. As a woman, a single parent, and a person of color, it was empowering to know that I was an entrepreneur.”

Arleen had no early care and education (ECE) experience, but was eager to learn strategies to help young children thrive.  She was concerned, however, about the cost of going back to school. She heard about the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® Scholarship Program and Early Childhood Educator INCENTIVE$ Florida through a colleague and decided to apply.

Operated by the Children’s Forum, T.E.A.C.H. and INCENTIVE$ are helping to establish a well-qualified, fairly-compensated and stable workforce for Florida’s children. T.E.A.C.H. provides scholarships for early educators working towards early learning credentials, college credits, and degrees. The program provides financial bonuses to scholars after successful completion of their training and coursework during a contract year. In addition, INCENTIVE$ rewards early educators with financial stipends based on their education and continuity of employment.

“The bonus I received from T.E.A.C.H. and the stipend I received from INCENTIVE$ were a great source of additional income,” she said. “It propelled me to make wise business decisions for my FCCH such as purchasing insurance.  In addition, the T.E.A.C.H. and INCENTIVE$ staff were always encouraging and provided support when I needed it most.”

With the help of T.E.A.C.H. and INCENTIVE$, Arleen earned her Bachelor’s degree in early childhood education from Walden University. The knowledge she gained from college inspired Arleen to become a voice for the FCCH community. She serves as vice-president of the Florida Family Child Care Home Association, a state representative for the National Association of Family Care, and  a facilitator/accreditation specialist for the Business Leadership Institute that provides training and resources for individuals who own a FCCH.

As much as Arleen loves her job, she acknowledges several challenges facing those who operate a FCCH. These challenges include a lack of young professionals entering the field, sustaining a living wage, and gaining respect for the field from policy makers and community leaders. “As early educators, we tend to believe we don’t have a voice. I wish people could understand that our economy relies on child care in order for businesses to function.”

Arleen hopes that one day there will be an early childhood to college system within education. She feels the fundamental skills children learn in early care and education settings affect them well into adulthood. “Let’s change the narrative of education and look at it from a holistic approach. I believe preschool programs, public schools, and colleges can work together to develop curricula and determine how we’re going to help them throughout their lives.”

For now, Arleen is working on earning her Master’s degree in ECE Leadership from the University of North Florida. She plans to graduate in December of 2022, and will continue to operate Arleen’s Home Day Care Inc.  She encourages early educators to go back to school and become more of an expert in their field. “You can never stop learning. By learning, you will find your purpose and the best strategies to serve the children and families in your care. Trust me, there is no better value than that.”