Theresa Rivers' calendar is always busy.
Weddings, graduations and cotillions have been part of her leisure activities for the last 20 years.
As the owner of Tiny Town Early Learning Center, a home-based child care facility in Prince George’s County, she has watched hundreds of children grow up.
She still remains an active part of their lives.
“It’s a connection you don’t usually form in a center,” she said.”It’s amazing to have generations come back.”
Rivers is just one of the thousands licensed home-care providers in Maryland. She’s part of an industry that has been on the decline for the last six years.
With more parents opting to place their children in center-based child care programs, home-based business owners are looking for ways to keep the business model sustainable.
According to statistics from the Maryland Family network, by the year 2018, the number of home-care facilities is projected to shrink from 8,786 in operators to 6,047.
IN FOCUS | Child care costs at centers in Maryland are in many cases similar to the cost of college tuition. We take an in-depth look at the issue Wednesday at 6 p.m.
“We worry about the future of home-care,” Rivers, who is also president of the Maryland State Family Child Care Association said. “We have to make sure the resources are there to ensure we are sustainable.”
To ensure home-care businesses can survive, the organization has increased training programs and outreach to potential business operators.
Rivers said her group also worked with legislators to expand the number of children that can be watched in a home-care facility.
The organization has also lobbied the Maryland General Assembly, to ensure home-care providers are included in new legislation that expands pre-kindergarten across the state.
In the past session, Gov. Martin O’Malley earmarked $4.3 million to expand the program, to ensure more families have access to early education.
The additional funding is estimated to help 1,600 families.
In Maryland, parents can choose from three specific types of child care, including home-based, custodial or center-based.
Lisa Henckel, vice president for corporate development at Celebree Learning Center, said the reason more families are switching to center-based programs is because of the educational benefits.
“Leaders are recognizing the importance early education has in helping a student succeed,” she said. “Centers like ours are introducing learning at an early age, making them ready to enter school prepared.”
Many times home-based facilities might find it challenging to keep up with changing regulations, she said.
At Celebree, teachers approach learning through an incidental approach, that includes taking fun activities and seeing how students can benefit and learn from them.
Interest in the center has increased so much, Celebree plans to open to more locations in Baltimore and Annapolis.
“Our goal is to connect with the community,” Henckel said. “Each place has a different need, different approach to learning- that’s where we find success.”
When it comes to cost, Henckel said many centers, like Celebree take advantage of state subsidies. Centers also work with individual families to work out financial plans to make the services affordable.
“We base our rates on the markets we are in,” she said.
Christine Peusch, executive director of the Maryland State Child Care Association, said the state has done an excellent job of pushing early education efforts.
While the push is important, she worries that center-based programs could take a hit if they are not recognized as legitimate education centers.
“We are looking for a partnership,” she said. “So that families can see the benefit in these centers and see how prepared their child will be when they enter kindergarten.”
Stacie Burch, assistant director of the TEACH Institute at Anne Arundel Community College, said that childcare education remains pretty diverse, attracting students of all ages.
She said there’s still an interest in home-based care in Maryland.
This past year, Burch said home-care certification classes were full for the first time since 2008.
“Last year I was cancelling these classes,” she said. “This year is a different story.”
Rivers might be worried about the future, but she knows that home-based care is critical for families looking for affordable child care.
“We aren’t just providers, we are really an extended family,” she said. “That’s something you might not get at a center.”