Renee Kuykendall woke up at 4 a.m. to prepare for the arrival of her first client. She won't be done with her last client of the day until 11 p.m.
In her home in Antelope, just outside of Sacramento, she makes enough eggs, sausage, grits and toast for 13 people, to be served at 7 a.m. She checks on the frogs in the fish tank — a crowd favorite — and makes sure her house is spotless; she's recently had a problem with boogers smeared on the walls.
Kuykendall, 60, has operated a daycare business out of her home for nearly 20 years. When the long workdays become too hard, she will be able to stop and still be financially sound, thanks to retirement savings from a prior career with the federal government.
But she worries for many of her peers, who say that, after years of earning low wages and with no retirement benefits available, they won't have any savings when their working days are over.
More than a year after newly unionized child-care providers in California signed their first-ever contract with the state, a push to "retire with dignity" has moved to the top of the 40,000-member organization's priority list.
"It's not right that everybody else gets these things and we don't," Kuykendall said over a chorus of children sounding out words on flash cards. "It goes back to 'babysitters' versus child-care providers. I am a business owner. I'm amazed at how ignorant people are as to what we do, and we have their most prized possession."
The state budget signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in June includes funding for a study regarding potential retirement benefits for child-care providers who offer state-subsidized care out of their homes. What those benefits would actually look like, and cost, is unknown and will have to be negotiated between state and union leaders — complex bargaining that could last years.
In the meantime, people like Renaldo Sanders are feeling nervous about the future. Sanders, 69, has worked as a licensed child-care provider in Compton since 1993. Some of the children she looks after now are the third generation that she's cared for from the same family.
One in five home-based family child-care providers in California are 60 or older, according to a survey conducted by UC Berkeley's Center for the Study of Child Care Employment in 2020.
"The babies are getting heavier," Sanders said, noting the physicality of the job as she ages. "But I don't have any physical limitations, knock on wood, praise God."