Alicia Williams discusses challenges faced by privately owned child care centers

Alicia Williams became interested in becoming a child care provider after she began helping her daughter with child care in 2014. While she was used to being “Nana” to her 3-year-old granddaughter, she wanted to give the preschooler an opportunity to socialize with other children.

Alicia made her vision a reality, obtaining credentials from the Arkansas Department of Human Services to operate her El Dorado home as a licensed child care family home. Because of the demand for high-quality child care in Union County, she transitioned from providing in-home care to opening a licensed child care center, allowing her to accommodate more children at Happy Hearts Learning Academy.

“I cared for six children when I opened the child care center, and within two months, I reached capacity at 49,” she said, “And I’ve been full ever since.”

Alicia expanded her business to Saline County, opening Tiny Hearts Learning Academy in Benton. Within three months, that facility was full. She recently opened her third center – Incredible Hearts Learning Academy – in Benton.

“My waiting list for the Benton area is over a year out,” she said. “Child care is my thing; it’s my passion. And I’m full speed ahead.”

Despite her successes and passion for her work, being a small business owner – especially a child care provider – comes with its challenges. In Union County, the biggest challenge has been to provide affordable, high-quality child care to working families.

“I recently raised rates and lost a few children because of it,” she said. “Before the pandemic, our center was always full, but we’re just now getting back to being at capacity. I struggle with raising rates. I put myself in the parents’ situation, because I know child care is pricey, and I know how hard it is.”

Alicia said the rate increase was necessary because of inflation and the need to pay her staff a living wage.

“My employees need those wages to be able to provide for their families,” she said. “The tuition is not for us; the tuition is basically to run the business. Our staff has to get trained throughout the year to keep their certifications, and the cost of food and supplies is going up.

“It’s hard for small businesses, especially for privately owned small businesses like mine. We don’t have a lot of resources available to run our businesses; it’s basically run off the families who pay tuition to our centers.”

Alicia stressed the importance of compensating child care employees fairly and showing them appreciation for their work.

“I’m grateful for the funding that has become available through sustainability and quality grants, but I would like to see the government allocate funds for private centers so we can pay our teachers a higher hourly wage, like $15 to $16 an hour.

“Our teachers deserve to be paid. They deserve to be paid well. Don’t look at us as babysitters or day care providers or child care facilities. Look at us as early education professionals as well as learning environments. We are teaching these children; we’re not just watching them and letting them play. Recognize us as educators as well.”

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