Lina's Story: Supporting immigrant child care training in San Diego

A cartoon image of a child's hand over and adult hand

This article was originally published by the Blue Shield News Center. 

San Diego area resident Lina Mousa, 50, came to the U.S. from Iraq in 2011. The main breadwinner for her family, she has been a child care provider since 2012. She lives with her husband, who is disabled and cannot work, and her mother-in-law. With limited English, job opportunities were few and far between, but Mousa found that she could provide child care for other Iraqi immigrant families out of her own home. 

International Rescue Committee (IRC), a $250,000 Blue Shield of California Foundation grantee, helped Mousa get her child care license. She is now enrolled in IRC’s Steps to Family Child Care Success program (STEPS) to grow her skills and expand her business.

STEPS is a 14-week technical assistance program where participants – who are all women – learn about child development, understand bookkeeping and taxes, expand digital literacy, and market themselves. The program is in different languages and recently graduated Spanish-speaking and Somali-speaking trainees. STEPS is currently training Arabic-speakers from Iraq, like Mousa.

“Some of the information in STEPS is a refresher, but so much is new and so interesting,” Mousa said through an interpreter. “I’ve learned bookkeeping and how to track my expenses for taxes. But probably the most exciting things I’ve learned have been about child development. They showed us brain scans of a child who is well cared for next to scans of a neglected child. It opened my eyes about how much what I do impacts the kids in my care.”

A Critical Need, Underappreciated

Affordable, reliable child care allows parents to work full-time and support their families. It is an essential part of our economic infrastructure – particularly during the pandemic, as many schools moved to remote learning. Yet the costs can be prohibitive, and child care workers like Mousa – who are predominantly women of color – are deeply undervalued and underpaid for the contributions they make to the healthy development of children and the financial security of families.

“Income is a major predictor of health,” said Rachel Wick, senior program officer at Blue Shield of California Foundation. “Whether you can be healthy and thrive is hugely connected to income. The Foundation’s work is around addressing poverty and the deep lack of security for many communities of color.”

Afal Al Sammarraie runs STEPS and said that beyond the hard skills, the program provides a safe place for women of similar backgrounds to come together, share with people who have the same traditions, and learn from each other. Some of the women in STEPS are brand new to child care, and some have been doing it for 10 years. “With STEPS, they can connect in the community and get support and motivation,” she said. “It opens opportunities.”

STEPS provides a foundation for immigrant women to learn all the rules and regulations of the child care industry in the U.S. and then tailor their businesses to their own communities, where parents are often struggling in the workforce. The program seeks to improve the financial health of both the child care providers and the parents they serve.

Child care is one of the largest low-wage sectors in California. Yet the work helps determine positive outcomes for not only healthy development of children, but the health of parents who are able to work.

“STEPS is an exciting opportunity to invest in immigrants and women of color,” said Wick. “It has an impact on not only health equity, but gender and racial equity. Also important is the ripple effect these providers have on children, families, and the broader community at the 10,000-foot level of the economy.” 

‘When You Feel Productive, You Feel Better About Yourself’

The Foundation’s also granted $250,000 to San Diego State University’s Center for Excellence in Early Development (CEED) to evaluate and research STEPS in order to scale it up and provide greater access to high quality, culturally responsive child care across California. Though the research has yet to start, there are big goals to inform policy, according to Sarah Garrity, interim senior associate dean for the College of Education at San Diego State University and associate professor in child and family development.

“Child care is a hot topic right now, and we want to document the experiences of the women doing the work to inform statewide policies,” said Garrity. “There are huge discussions happening at the state level, and family child care providers are sometimes left out of the equation. Our research will amplify their voices and lived experiences.”

For providers like Lina, there’s an enormous sense of pride and positivity about her experience of having a successful business. “When you feel productive, you feel better about yourself,” she said. “Probably the best part is knowing I’m having an impact on children. I know because some of them call me mommy.” 

Blue Shield of California Foundation is proud to have made a significant investment to support small child care entrepreneurs. The STEPS program is a collaboration between IRC, CEED, the YMCA Childcare Resource Service, the Horn of Africa, and the Chicano Federation. Other funders of the program include Price Philanthropies and the San Diego Foundation. 

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