Parents can leave and read reviews, contact providers, and get licensing information all from their smartphones
With more than 11 million American children under the age of five in some type of child care, parents in every corner of the country are scrambling to find day care that is not only affordable to them but also has hours that fall in line with their jobs, is safe and clean and properly licensed, has open spots or at least a waiting list that isn’t 200-children deep, and is a good fit for their children.
Enter Winnie, a groundbreaking app and website that acts as a guide to all things child-friendly—the best restaurants, available bathrooms, and now, a database of child-care providers and preschools with a growing offering of reviews, rates, and locations in all 50 states.
A boon for all moms, but a lifesaver for Solo Moms, in particular, who are shouldering the entire emotional and financial burden of child care.
Winnie cofounder Sara Mauskopf chatted with ESME about the work she and cofounder Anne Halsall have done to build their child-care resource. More than 2 million parents have used Winnie to find child care, she reports, and Winnie has data on 150,000 licensed child-care providers.
Learn why Mauskopf, a 34-year-old mom of two daughters under the age of five, thinks Winnie will be a game changer for all parents, and check out ESME’s one-on-one first look at Winnie.
Q: What kind of child care do you have for your own children?
A: I think I have tried every type of child care in the book. Currently, my husband is a stay-at-home dad, and my older child goes to preschool close to full time now. But I’ve had a nanny and done part-time preschool, so I’ve had to find multiple, different kinds of solutions.
We see as a theme with parents today, especially, is the need for different solutions at different points in time. Your child-care situation does tend to change as your kid ages or as you add to your family or as your work situation changes, and so parents are coming back two, three times to find new child-care solutions during those early years.
Q: How have you grown Winnie’s child-care resources?
A: We have been at this for three-and-a-half years now. We dipped our toes in the water, so to speak, and started getting data about child care just in certain areas. We started in San Francisco, where we are based, getting information on every licensed day care and preschool, many of which weren’t online at all before Winnie, so a lot of the smaller, in-home child-care options were not listed online and parents had no way to find them.
Mauskopf and Anne Halsall quickly found that their burgeoning database answered a huge need for both parents looking for child care and providers looking to fill open spots.
We realized this was really solving a problem that needed to be solved, and we were able to then expand it to all of California and then throughout the country. So now we have 150,000 day-care and preschool providers on the platform with comprehensive data about their programs, the ages of kids they accept, and their prices.
Q: What other child-care resources does Winnie provide?
A: I think the cool thing about Winnie is we’re not just a search platform for day care and preschool—you can also participate. You can review your day care and preschool; you can ask questions on any parenting topic.
We do see our community kind of talking about related issues . . . things such as how do you potty train your child to prepare for day care? And how do you choose a day care and preschool? So we have resources on that, and we also have all the community discussions around those topics, which we moderate and oversee the quality of as well.
Q: Why was this type of child-care database needed?
A: Four years ago when I had my first daughter, it was crazy to me that this didn’t exist. I had six weeks of maternity leave, I had to go back to work, and I kept thinking, How do people find child care? I was told you have to network and ask around and find the right mom friends who know of the nanny who’s going to be available or the day care that’s going to have an open spot. I couldn’t believe it. Here I was, this busy mom, working. How do I find time to do this other job of networking with moms to find child care?
I have spent my whole life working in tech, where everything is just so easy to do—there’s an app for that. I couldn’t believe that when it came to this very essential need, there was no solution, or not even close to a solution, and parents were turning to offline channels and kind of archaic and old websites.
I saw an opportunity and wanted to help create it.
Q: What has surprised you about the challenges of finding quality child care?
A: One of the things we learned is that every day care and preschool is licensed and inspected regularly by the state. Some programs are exempt from licensing, but for the most part, everyone who is operating a child-care business, even if it’s out of their home for even a small number of kids, is licensed and inspected. And that’s very different from, say, hiring a nanny or a babysitter for whom no qualifications are required.
So there’s this amazing resource—the state is doing all this work for you to vet child-care providers—and yet most parents are not checking that information because it’s impossible to get to. It’s public, but it’s buried. We’re not finding out if the child-care center we are sending our children to is licensed and whether it’s had any violations, whether it’s had any complaints pending against them.
So what we’ve done is we’ve taken that information, and we make it public and available. In the states where we’ve done this integration, such as in California, we list the licensing number, and we link to the licensing database so that parents can see this information and find out if a provider is not licensed. We make that information public as well.
That was, I think, the most surprising thing to me: that there’s this huge quality check that’s being done and that parents are not even aware of this or privy to this information.
Q: What are the top three things parents should be on the lookout for when choosing child care for their kids?
A: Absolutely number one is the licensing information. That’s the bare minimum . . . the provider needs to be licensed, and, if not, that provider needs to be exempt from licensing. Some providers who are not licensed will say something such as, “I don’t give out my license number,” but the license number is public information; it’s not like a Social Security number. Providers are required to share it. That’s a huge red flag if a provider tells you they don’t give it out. It almost always means they are not licensed—and that’s a problem.
The second is reviews from other parents. This was another thing that was just so hard for me when I was searching for child care: to actually find other parents who had used a particular provider and could say they had a great experience.
And so we do have this capability on Winnie where parents can leave reviews and make those reviews available. If you can’t find any reviews online, ask the provider for some references from parents who have sent or are sending their child to their program.
I think the final thing is to tour those places that you think could be a great fit. And we try to make it easy on Winnie to contact providers to set up a tour. Your child is going to be spending a lot of time at one of these places, and your parental instincts are really good. So tour those places of interest to get an intuitive sense of whether you could see your child there.
Q: How do you see Winnie’s child-care resource growing from here?
A: We are really focused on just getting more and more national data. We want every single provider to be on Winnie and not just have a page, but we want to have a deep relationship with the providers, where they update us when they have open spaces and give us really detailed information about their programs.
We have a lot of providers on Winnie already and using the database, but not all of them. That will just make this service really useful, the more providers we can have of all different types because the thing we’ve found is that all parents are different and their needs are different. The more providers we can have that are offering different things, the better we will serve parents.
Sarah Netter, ESME’s Adoption Resource Guide, is a single mother by choice to a fabulous little boy, one neurotic Italian Greyhound, and two Spanish Galgo puppies. She is a full-time journalist whose work has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and ABC News.