All Our Kin: Raising the Quality and Accessibility of Early Care and Education for Our Youngest, Most Vulnerable Children

What if we unlocked the potential of women caring for children in poor communities, unsung heroes who enable children & parents to succeed?

Photo of Jessica Sager
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Founding Story: Share a story about a key experience or spark that helps the network understand why this project got started or a story about how you became inspired about the potential for this project to succeed.

All Our Kin (AOK) began as a response to the consequences of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 on low-income families, especially single mothers of very young children who struggled to find both decent work and affordable, high-quality child care in their communities. All Our Kin’s response to these negative outcomes for families was to invest in the community’s women, giving them the resources, training, and support to open their own community-based child care programs. AOK began as a laboratory school, with a staff of two and an original group of six mothers and six children. Through the school, parents learned to be teachers while working with their own and each other’s children. The school’s graduates formed the foundation of the mighty AOK Network, which includes over 400 family child care providers who transform opportunities for as many as 2,400 children across Southern Connecticut today.


Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [State]

  • Connecticut

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [City]

New Haven

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [State]

  • Connecticut

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [City]

Bridgeport, New Haven, Norwalk, and Stamford

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Our country's acute child care crisis means that many children, especially poor children, are not getting the high-quality early care and education that research tells us is crucial for success. Across the nation, child care supply falls far short of demand; our limited existing care is enormously expensive, with the average cost of child care representing over 20% of the annual median income; and worst of all, less than 50% of child care programs provide “good” quality care to children, and only 8% provide “excellent” care. In response, AOK trains the caregivers reaching our youngest, most vulnerable children: women in low-income communities who are committed to giving children high-quality early learning experiences.

Children’s brains are literally built during the earliest years, 0-3, and just one healthy relationship with an adult, whether it be a parent or child care provider, can make all the difference in a child’s life. Across the country, in many of our poorest neighborhoods, there are women who are committed to making this difference, to ensuring that children have high-quality early learning experiences in home-based settings. In fact, the majority of our youngest, most vulnerable children spend their days in these settings. However, despite these women’s passion and dedication, their enormous potential to transform opportunities for children and families is largely ignored. As a result, many are under-resourced and under-equipped, and often unable to give children high-quality early learning experiences.

At AOK, we invest in these women - incredible community assets - giving them the resources, training, and support that they need to thrive as early childhood educators and create enriching child care programs that will serve children and families for years to come. The result is a proven triple win: child care providers build better lives for themselves and their own families; parents can succeed in the workforce, knowing their children are well cared for; and most important, children develop the skills and competencies needed for success in school and in life: independence, self-regulation, empathy, creativity, curiosity, and eagerness to learn.  

Is your model focused on any of the following traditionally underserved communities?

  • Communities of color
  • Low-income communities

Does your model work within any of the following sectors?

  • Childcare
  • Community Development and Empowerment
  • Education

Year Founded


Project Stage

  • Scaling (the solution has passed the previous stages, and the next step will be growing its impact on a regional or global scale)

Example: Walk the network through a specific example of what happens when a person or group engages with your solution.

Pam came to AOK a single mother with 4 children. In AOK’s lab school, she received training in child development while caring for her youngest child. Upon graduating, Pam opened a family child care program, where she’s served many children, including Andy. Andy came to Pam with developmental delays, and soon after arriving, he and his mother became homeless. Pam went above and beyond to ensure their safety and wellbeing, helping Andy’s mother to find work and a shelter, changing her hours to accommodate Andy’s mother’s schedule, and making sure that Andy got high-quality care and education. Before long, Andy and his mother moved to an apartment, and Andy was meeting all developmental milestones, building a strong foundation for success.

Impact: What was the impact of your work last year? Please also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

AOK increases the supply of care. Though Connecticut lost nearly 35% of its family child care programs from 2000-2011, licensed family child care programs in New Haven increased by 74% in the same period, thanks to AOK. AOK increases the quality of care. AOK providers score, on average, over 50% higher on global measurements of quality than non-AOK providers, according to an external evaluation. AOK increases provider revenue and wellbeing. In a 2011 study of AOK’s Licensing Program, UConn’s Center for Economic Analysis found that nearly 60% of participants reported earning at least $5,000 more the first year after licensure; assessments of AOK’s Circle of Security initiative indicate a 93% reduction in provider stress. AOK generates significant economic returns. According to UConn, for every $1 spent in the AOK Licensing Program, about $15-20 is returned to society in increased GRP.

Organization Type

  • nonprofit/NGO/citizen sector

Annual Budget

  • $1mil - $5mil

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is your solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

AOK’s model is primarily supported by private philanthropy. We know that, in order for this work to succeed in scale, we must increasingly engage with government and other stakeholders, building the public funding infrastructure for AOK and programs like ours. The support of the Ashoka/RWJF Children’s Wellbeing Initiative would help us to get there, sending a powerful message about the value of investing in family child care.

Unique Value Proposition: How else is this problem being addressed? Are there other organizations working in the same field, and how does your project differ from these other approaches?

The U.S. faces a child care crisis, particularly for our infants and toddlers, who are at a critical moment in life. In response, AOK has built an innovative model for investing in the caregivers who reach our youngest, most vulnerable children. Among a handful of organizations nationwide supporting quality in family child care, AOK’s strong track record of success sets us apart. AOK providers score over 50% higher on research-based measures of quality than non-AOK providers; and, most importantly, AOK providers score highest in the areas that most influence children’s learning outcomes.

Reflect on the Field and its Future: Stepping outside of your project, what do you see as the most important or promising shifts that can advance children’s wellbeing?

Growing research on early brain development makes a strong case for supporting quality in early education. With this data and AOK’s track record, we are changing the national dialogue on early childhood, highlighting the value of family child care. Though these caregivers play a critical role as educators of our youngest, most vulnerable children, they are devalued and ignored because they are low-income women of color. With your support, AOK will transform this narrative, ensuring that family child care providers, and the children and families they serve, have all they need to thrive.

Source: How did you hear about the Children’s Wellbeing Challenge? (the answer will not be public)

  • Email

Program Design Clarity

AOK serves family child care providers at every stage of their development, raising the quality and sustainability of their child care programs. Through our Tool Kit Licensing Program, we help unlicensed caregivers fulfill state licensing requirements and join a professional community of child care providers. Through our Network, we offer educational mentorship, professional development, financial management and education training, and advocacy and leadership opportunities. Programs are delivered by AOK staff, who are master educators with strong backgrounds in adult and child development.

Community Leadership

At the heart of AOK’s mission is a commitment to equity in education. We embrace learning from our diverse group of providers and parents, and cultivate leadership in this group by offering opportunities to serve on our Board and Provider Steering Committee. Many former AOK participants have joined our staff and represent 10% of our team. AOK also works with many community partners, leveraging as many resources and opportunities as possible.

Age of Children Impacted

  • 0-1.5
  • 1.5 -3
  • 3 - 5

Spread Strategies

AOK seeks to transform opportunities for children and families across the country by: 1) shifting the national conversation around early care and education to recognize and support family child care; 2) building capacity to raise the quality of family child care in other communities by providing training in AOK’s model and best practices; and 3) replicating AOK’s high-touch, high-resource, high-impact model in communities throughout the country.

Reflect on how your work helps children to thrive. How are you cultivating children’s sense of self, belonging, and purpose through your model?

By working directly with family child care providers, the educators of our youngest, most vulnerable children, AOK reaches children at a critical point in life, when the brain is developing most rapidly. As a result, children spend their early years in safe, healthy, nurturing settings, where they gain high-quality early learning experiences that are developmentally appropriate, based in best practice, and lay the foundation for success.

Leadership Story

In 1999, we set up a child care cooperative where parents on public assistance learned to be educators while working with their own and each other’s children. Our lab school was a success: by 2008, we ran a family child care network, supporting graduates as educators and entrepreneurs. Meanwhile, changes in federal policy made it hard for parents to participate in our flagship program, the lab school. So we closed it. This enabled us to build a model program for transforming child care quality and sustainability, creating deep, lasting change for many more children and families.

What awards or honors has the project received? (Optional)

2016, feat. in Helping Children Succeed (Paul Tough) and Stanford Social Innovation Review; 2015, Roslyn S. Jaffe Award Grand Prize, Yale Jefferson Public Service Award; 2014, New Profit “Extraordinary Female Social Entrepreneur”; 2013, CT Women’s Hall of Fame; 2012, SBA Women in Business Champion

Organization's Twitter Handle

@AllOurKin @JessicaSagerAOK

Organization’s Facebook Page (URL)

Leader's LinkedIn Profile (URL)

Evaluation results

5 evaluations so far

1. Relevance: Does this project seem to help children (ages 0 to 12 years) develop a strong sense of self, belonging, and purpose?

5 - Yes, this is great! The project lays out a strong, compelling case for how its model nurtures children’s wellbeing. - 60%

4 - It seems like a good fit, and the model talks explicitly about children’s wellbeing. - 40%

3 - I think so. The project seems related to children’s wellbeing, but the logic is vague. - 0%

2 - Not sure. The project doesn’t have much to do with wellbeing, or it doesn’t give enough information. - 0%

1 - Nope, this project definitely doesn’t fit the challenge brief (e.g., It doesn’t help kids younger than 12, isn’t in the U.S., etc.) - 0%

2. Innovation: Does this project tackle children’s wellbeing from a new angle?

5 - I loved this! The project describes a novel model that addresses important cultural or systemic barriers. - 60%

4 - This is pretty cool. The project is addressing an important problem in a new or compelling way. - 20%

3 - I feel like there’s something there, but I want more details about what makes it distinctive. - 0%

2 - It’s a good project, but I’ve seen others like it before. - 20%

1 - It was confusing or hard to tell what it made it different. - 0%

3. Social Impact: What is this project’s potential for creating positive social impact?

5 - Lots of potential. This project is achieving impressive results, and it’s growing quickly. It could absolutely inspire changes in the ways we approach caring for kids nationally, across sectors (e.g. childcare, healthcare, education). - 60%

4 - Pretty good potential. This project demonstrates significant positive impact so far, and it could scale regionally or nationally one day and fundamentally change how a system operates (e.g. childcare, healthcare, education). - 40%

3 - Budding potential. This project is creating local impact, but it would take a few adjustments before it could scale. - 0%

2 - Some potential. This project demonstrates some initial positive impact, but it would require major changes before it could scale. - 0%

1 - Limited potential. This project has great intentions, but it looks like it does not include key drivers of a shift towards children’s wellbeing. - 0%

4. Overall, how do you feel about this idea?

5 - This idea rocked my world. It’s awesome! - 40%

4 - This idea seems really exciting. With a little more polishing, it’d be among my favorites. - 40%

3 - I think the idea is great, but it needs some work before it moves onto the next round. - 20%

2 - I liked it fine but preferred others. - 0%

1 - It didn’t make my heart beat faster. Needs significant revisions. - 0%

5. Offer some feedback. Where should this participant spend some time revising?

DEFINING THE PROBLEM. Make sure to articulate the root causes or main barriers of the social issue your project addresses. (Founding Story, Problem, Solution). - 0%

CLARITY OF MODEL. Make sure to mention (a.) the beneficiary, b) the main activities, and c) how those activities drive social impact. Keep it streamlined! - 100%

MARKETPLACE. Make sure to research other players in this space and articulate how this project is different. I didn’t get a complete sense of how this project compares to others. - 0%

IMPACT POTENTIAL. Make sure to use specific numbers to describe what your project has achieved so far! And consider how you might scale the model or its insights, through partnerships, trainings, or franchising. - 100%

WRITING STYLE. Try to stay concise and make it vivid. Avoid jargon. - 0%

Nothing stands out! I thought it was great. - 100%

1 comment

Join the conversation:

Photo of Katherine Kinsey

Our nation needs every state to do this and to truly care for young children, their families and the community at large.  The ROI is significant.