Since its founding in 1991, First Children’s Finance has grown from a community development corporation working in urban neighborhoods in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, to a nonprofit financing and business development resource for child care and early education in ten states: Minnesota, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Michigan, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin.
In the early 1990s, First Children’s Finance packaged $3 million in public-private financing to develop five family child care homes and support three new child care facilities in low-income neighborhoods. Recognizing the tremendous impact of capital, First Children’s established a revolving loan fund in 1997, the first loan fund in the United States dedicated exclusively to child care and early education businesses. By 2002, following certification as a Community Development Financial Institution by the U.S. Department of Treasury, we studied the feasibility of expanding the loan fund. Today, we make loans available to child care businesses committed to quality that want to remodel or expand.
As we gained experience with loan clients and others, we began to recognize the importance of helping child care professionals build business knowledge and skills. In 1999, First Children’s introduced Minnesota’s first child care training program on business practices and financial management. We began offering business consulting services in 2000, including organizational assessments, to help child care and early education businesses manage growth. In 2002 First Children’s introduced a state-certified, eleven-module business management curriculum, the foundation of our core areas of expertise:
- business planning, including starting a child care or early education business
- financial management
- human resources
- legal issues
- organizational development and leadership
- board governance
First Children’s was particularly well-positioned to help meet continued market demand for more and better child care options. Weaving together our experience in local planning and financing, facility development and business expertise, we launched a consulting and community planning initiative to increase the quantity and quality of child care programs. By 2002 First Children’s had facilitated the creation of community plans for child care in ten communities, including three Native American tribes, resulting in new, expanded and improved child care facilities.
In recent years, quality improvement initiatives in early care and education have begunI in virtually every state. Increasingly, public, private and child care leaders are recognizing the value of coupling business resources with investments in the classroom. First Children’s is a partner in Minnesota’s Quality Rating System, helping participants create business changes to support and sustain gains in quality. We also consult with statewide leaders to develop business resources for child care professionals in their states.
First Children’s is in the forefront of researching, developing and promoting effective business practices in the early care and education industry and, most importantly, linking those practices to quality programs and outcomes for children. In 2006 we launched the Growth Fund, an investment and consulting program involving five Twin Cities-area nonprofit centers, aimed at sustaining access to quality early care and learning for low-income families. Advised by a team of industry and business volunteers, the Growth Fund supports the success of participating centers by tapping the expertise of both participants and advisors. Minnesota now has five Growth Fund classes, and Growth Fund initiatives are also active in South Dakota, Iowa and Michigan.
Through our loan fund and Growth Fund, First Children’s has provided over $9 million in loans and grants that launched, expanded or improved over 300 child care businesses serving nearly 14,000 children.
The Growth Fund is just one example of the innovation and collaboration that has characterized First Children’s way of doing business since the beginning. From urban neighborhoods to communities and states around the U.S., we have forged public-private partnerships to bring creativity, expertise and resources to our work in early care and education. Most recently, First Children’s launched the Children’s Chamber of Commerce to further mobilize and sustain broad private sector interest, expertise and investment in the business of early care and education.
As First Children’s Finance grows and our environment changes, we are continuously adapting and expanding these activities to strengthen the viability of the child care and early education industry as a whole—one business, one region and one state at a time. We take pride in these accomplishments and the results for child care businesses and the children, families and communities they serve.