Child care outside the home cannot be met with a “one size fits all” approach.  Read on to discover the different models of child care cooperatives:  Employer-assisted cooperative child care, parent cooperative, family or group child care home provider cooperative, child care worker cooperative, and babysitting cooperative.  

About Child Care Cooperatives
Child care outside the home cannot be met with a “one size fits all” approach.  Parents desire child care that is affordable, convenient, fits their work schedule, and meshes with their values.  Parents want to feel secure that their child is safe and receiving quality care while they are busy working.  Because of shortages of child care programs, and because of the high costs of child care, parents often feel torn and are left with accepting arrangements for the care of their child that are less than ideal. 

Cooperative child care models can often meet parent’s child care needs because they are designed to meet the specific needs of members. The section below describes five cooperative models that can offer viable alternatives to traditional approaches to meeting child care needs.

Each cooperative model is non-profit, democratic, and member controlled. The distinct differences among the models described rest with their member focus.  For example, the members of parent and babysitting cooperatives are parents, so policies and decisions center on their needs.  In the employer consortium model, employers are the members and the program is established to meet their needs for qualified employees.  On the other hand, the needs of workers dominate the worker and family home child care cooperative models, making issues like wages and working conditions more of a priority.

Employer-Assisted Cooperative Child Care
Two models of employer-assisted child care, the employer consortium and the parent/employee model share in common employers who engage in helping their employees meet their child care needs and also gain business advantages: staff recruitment and retention, reduced employee absenteeism and increased job satisfaction, and company loyalty.

Each model of employer assisted child care focuses on the need for child care to enable parents to work.  In each model employers are helping to encourage quality, convenient, licensed child care for their employees.  Employer programs charge fees to parents who are using the program. The amount of subsidy provided by employers, and the prices charged to parents varies.  Here are some of the ways that employers support child care (ordered from most to least common):

  1. Provide a facility for the program at low or no fee;
  2. Provide a variety of in-kind supports to the program at low or no fee:  utilities (including telephone), use of the copy machine or copying services, postage/mailing services; accounting services, meal services;
  3. Assist with fundraisers by providing a location, assisting with outreach, funding for specific parts of the fundraiser, such as auction items or food;
  4. Help with start-up expenses;
  5. Directly employ child care workers and offer benefits similar to those offered other employees;
  6. Offer subsidies to offset child care costs for employees.

In the Employer Consortium, businesses are the members and they join together to provide near worksite child care for their employees. In this model, the board is primarily composed of member-business representatives (who may also be parents). Business members identify the ways they will support the program (see previous list) and share the costs and benefits associated with them.  Some consortia start their own on or near the site of the child care center, while others contract with an established center or network of licensed family child care homes.  Employers rarely cover the full cost of child care; instead they support the program in ways that offer secure, trusted child care at a competitive or reduced fee for employees.

In the Parent/Employee Model, employers welcome and encourage parents to start and maintain a child care cooperative.  This model may be combined in some way with the employer consortium.  The biggest difference is that the board is composed primarily of parent employees, and only one or a few employers serve on the board.  From the previous distinction the parent/employee model follows the same structure as the parent cooperative described below.

Parent Cooperatives
Parents are attracted to child care and preschool cooperatives because they offer high quality, affordable child care or early education programs for children. The cooperative is led by a parent-elected Board of Directors who establishes policies and hire and oversee qualified staff that runs the day-to-day operations. Parents often contribute volunteer hours to the cooperative.  This involvement allows parent input and intimate knowledge regarding their child’s out-of-home experiences, as well as opportunities to interact with other parents.

The heritage of the parent model are Parent Participation Nursery Schools (PPNS), which date back to 1916 when a group of mothers at the University of Chicago organized a cooperative program to provide social and educational experiences for their young children, and to gain child-free time to pursue volunteer activities. Contemporary parent cooperatives continue to offer early childhood education as a core component of care. The programs often offer varying hours of care, so parents can choose from a variety of durations of care depending on their needs and work schedules.

The program is licensed and staffed by one or more experts in early childhood education. Parent involvement contributes to the quality of the program and also reduces operational costs. Parents can participate in a variety of ways, including participation fundraising events, weekend cleanup days, or serving on the board.  Programs may or may not require participation, depending on the programs, but participation is usually associated with reducing the cost of child care.

Family or Group Child Care Home Provider Cooperative
Family home child care providers are independently licensed and operated businesses.  Family home child care providers can feel professionally isolated, they may lack the time to do marketing for new clients, and they often lack benefits such as sick leave or vacation. Family child care providers can address these and other issues by forming a cooperative.

Through a cooperative, each business can remain independent but decide on key elements that they hold in common such as certain quality standards or benefits to parents.  Member businesses elect a board of directors and democratically govern the cooperative.

Family child care providers can use a cooperative to gain the following:

  • Joint Marketing to increase clients, maintain a consistent client base, or be more selective in clientele
  • Provide members (and their clients) with back-up care if they are ill or want to take a vacation
  • Share meal plans, develop procedures, business paperwork, such as client agreements and forms
  • Create their own toy lending library
  • Create joint special programs such as field trips, park days, music days, or other enrichment programs
  • Leverage buying power through joint purchasing of supplies, equipment, food items, and insurance.

Child Care Worker Cooperative
The director, teachers, and sometimes aides can join together to cooperatively own and govern a child care center. By combining their energy, capital, and skills worker owners gain steady employment and income, participate in decisions that affect their workplace and share the business profits made from their investment and labor.

The child care worker cooperative governs the business democratically and makes decisions about pay and authority, as well as all aspects of the business.

Babysitting Co-ops
Babysitting cooperatives allow parents to equitably exchange baby-sitting services so they can enjoy a night out or travel on business trips. These cooperatives are less formal and involve relatively short-term arrangements. When parents take care of a child(ren) from a member family they earn points or scrip that can be “spent” when they need baby-sitting services.

Written by E. Kim Coontz, Executive Director, California Center for Cooperative Development


Below is a list of recorded information (Zoom meetings) from a virtual childcare conference that our development center attended from May 18-21, 2020, hosted by the Minnesota Indigenous Business Alliance.  We thought we would share this information in hopes of inspiring people to consider entering childcare, not only as a professional calling, but also as a business.

Each day’s recorded meeting lasts approximately 90 minutes.  This conference had practitioners from rural and urban communities share about innovative approaches and partnerships they are using to meet their childcare needs.

We hope you find this information useful.  Please feel free to share it with your colleagues.

May 18, 2020
Foundations Address the Childcare Crisis in Minnesota

In this panel conversation, attendees will hear from passionate foundation leaders that work directly with childcare providers.  Foundation leaders will share honest reflections of the challenges they are seeing for providers in tribal and rural communities.  Attendees are encouraged to reflect on their own community’s needs.

Day One Recording:

Access Password: 3h?z%#9^

Our friends from the Southwest Initiative Foundation were unable to join us; however, their answers to the panel questions are linked below.

Southwest Initiative:

1. What do you do? What's your involvement with childcare in rural and tribal communities?

2. What have you been hearing from communities that you're serving? What types of challenges are there? How has this changed since COVID-19? What kind  of pressure is now on childcare even more?

3. What types of resources and technical assistance do you offer people interested in becoming care providers?  How do they apply for grants? What do you recommend as an entry inquiry?

4. What gives you hope? Where do you see places for communities to come together and support this work?

Indigenous Visioning Addresses the Childcare Crisis in Minnesota
Indigenous Visioning includes the expertise of Barb Fabre and Tamie Finn, who have worked in Tribal early learning communities for over thirty years.  Their work transforms the conversation around childcare to focus on the professional, high quality learning environments that matter for our children.  Their wisdom and expertise will offer insights on the challenges and strengths facing early learning in Minnesota’s tribal communities. 

May 19, 2020
Tribal Approaches and Initiatives

The answers to our communities’ problems lay within our communities themselves.  This panel conversation will dive deep into the creative approaches that tribal communities throughout Minnesota have taken on.  From language immersion to Montessori approaches, many of  the answers to our challenges already exist within our cultures, histories and language.

Day Two Recording:

May 20, 2020
Pod Childcare Model
MAHUBE-OTWA Head Start offers a model of childcare that addresses burnout, isolation, and other common barriers to success for childcare workers.  They have been doing this work for over thirty years and there are many lessons and best practices to learn.  How could this be modified for your own community?

Multi-Plex Childcare Model
Jeff Andrews has worked with architects and Minnesota childcares in rural communities across the state to come up with creative, affordable solutions to help childcare businesses dream and thrive.  Multi-plex childcare can help address burnout, offer language immersion resources, and a second or third-shift care opportunity.  Attendees will be encouraged to envision and build towards a childcare model that meets each unique community’s needs.

Day Three Recording:

May21, 2020
Cooperative Childcare Approaches

What does it mean to work cooperatively? These inspirational entrepreneurs will share honest challenges and success for using the cooperative model for their childcare business.  Could this improve workers’ wages? How does shared leadership benefit the community and its children? Come learn and see if a cooperative could answer some of your community’s early learning needs.

Day Four Recording:

Child Care Cooperative Documents

Articles of Incorporation


Employee Handbook 1

Employee Handbook 2

Parent Handbook

Form 1023
For a template of a completed Form 1023 please contact
Lori Capouch (, 701-667-6444
Mary Helvig (, 701-667-6404 or

Brian Gion (, 701-667-6440