CEI Stories

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A group of Somali immigrant women and their families celebrate behind a table with the CEI logo

April 15, 2022

CEI's Child Care Business Lab

Working mothers are leaving the workforce.

Cynthia Murphy, Senior Program Director at CEI Workforce Solutions, saw the trend before the pandemic and feels everyone can see it now. “We started to see high rates of unemployment, poverty, and underemployment among parents, particularly in rural areas,” Murphy explains. “And when we layered licensed child care slots on top of that data, we saw a pattern: a very low availability of child care.”

COVID accelerated this crisis in affordable, accessible child care. School closures, online learning, and quarantines put pressure on what are often patchwork solutions. And when working parents can no longer make it work, women’s jobs and careers are most often at risk.

Creating more child care slots is not easy. Daycare programs are complex to license, challenging to staff, expensive to run, and parents can only pay so much. “Access to child care is a tremendous opportunity to make work more rewarding for everyone, especially in rural and underserved communities,” Murphy says. “We started the CEI Child Care Business Lab to give people with a passion for child care the training, resources, and support network they need to succeed.”

The first program of its kind in the nation, the Child Care Business Lab expanded into Lewiston, Maine in 2021 to reach a large and vibrant community of Mainers originally from Somalia and other African countries.

The participants were women hoping to meet the needs of their community with care provided in their languages that celebrated their heritage and culture.

Many of the prior program participants have put their knowledge to work, opening home- and center-based child care in rural communities like Milbridge, Hampden, Canton and Pembroke, where their services are being welcomed with enthusiasm. Almost half of parents enrolling their children in CEI-incubated programs this year did so to be able to start a brand-new job.

If we are going to build an equitable economy, everyone must have the opportunity to earn a living wage. For parents, that means culturally appropriate, high-quality, affordable child care that supports diverse work schedules.

The program is offered free to all participants, thanks to funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Bill and Joan Alfond Foundation, the John T. Gorman Foundation, the Maine Community Foundation and an anonymous donor.

The Child Care Business Lab

Learn more and apply: Child Care Business Lab

Learn more about CEI’s Impact

Read our 2021 Annual Report

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