Responding to the lack of adequate, affordable childcare solutions after school hours, Chantal Mainguené has created the first integrated, scalable afterschool program in France. By mobilizing latent resources in the community, Chantal is demonstrating how it is possible to offer a high-quality solution to low-income families, single parents, and parents who work outside of school hours.
La idea nueva
Seeing single parents struggle to juggle their jobs, children’s schedules, and bills, Chantal, a single parent herself, had a creative idea: Harnessing unused spaces at the bottom of housing projects, employing some of the 6,000 unemployed artists in Paris, and charging parents proportionally to their income, she created inimitable spaces in which children of diverse socioeconomic backgrounds could develop their creativity, empathy, and abilities through artistic activities. By tapping into the resources of her community, she developed Môm’artre, a unique comprehensive afterschool program.
Through Môm’artre, Chantal places a specific focus on supporting single mothers in keeping their job(s) or finding employment. Relieving these mothers from the constant stress of providing fulfilling environments for their children, Môm’artre also offers mothers space to work on their own situation and strengthen their ties within their community. Through toolkits, self-help groups, literacy classes, and targeted workshops, Chantal empowers them to manage the complexity of their lives and succeed as working mothers.
Chantal is now demonstrating the portability of her model through a franchise network and is stepping into every space where the right community resources are available. Already looking beyond 27 preselected locations in Paris, she is investigating densely populated suburban areas such as Saint-Ouen and Montreuil as well as exploring large cities across France.
Elementary school classes in France finish at 4:30 pm and schools close at 6 pm at the latest. During this hour and a half after classes end and before children can return home, they are looked after, however only routine activities to pass the time are organized. In addition, schools are closed on Wednesdays. In most cases, French school hours are a challenge to parents’ working schedules.
Those who can afford it hire specialized afterschool care or babysitters, who ensure the logistics of bringing children to their various extracurricular activities such as sports, music, or arts. These activities take place outside the French school system, as the Ministry of Education is very resistant to mixing formal education with any optional activities and considers school grounds to be a sacred space for school learning. Even attempts from the Ministries of Sports and Youth to open schools at night and on weekends have repeatedly failed. Municipalities have also fallen short in creating acceptable afterschool alternatives, as the hours after 6 pm are overtime and caregiver unions lobby to protect the interests of their members; most being mothers themselves and wanting to take care of their own children.
Low-income families and single parents cannot afford extra childcare expenses, and their children walk home alone after 6 pm. They end up on the streets or home alone, which may contribute to poor school performance or delinquency. This problem is particularly acute in the case of singe parents (80 percent being mothers), which represent 35 percent of families in the Paris area and nearly 20 percent in the rest of France. Without a reliable childcare option, many fail to find or keep their jobs: Only 34 percent of single parents are unemployed. With on average lower levels of education and income, single parents are also less likely to send their children to extracurricular activities, which remain a privilege of the wealthy.
There are several employment programs and services designed for single parents, but they fail to reach their intended audience. Without adequate childcare options, which give priority to employed parents, single parents often skip the program’s workshops and counseling sessions, which can endanger their access to benefits. This lose-lose situation often leaves single parents with low self-esteem, depressed, and isolated.
There are, however, many untapped resources in the community to support single parents and the multitude of challenges they face. For example, the bottom spaces of buildings are designated by law to be devoted to social projects. Another untapped resource is unemployed people. All across France, thousands of unemployed artists currently live on social aid and would love to share their skills and passion with children. In addition, many retirees would enjoy giving their time to volunteer, but lack the proper infrastructure and legal certificates to do so. Until now, there was no catalyst to creatively combine these resources into an adequate afterschool mechanism.
Chantal designed Môm’artre to be the afterschool program of every child’s dreams. At 4:30 pm, directly after school, volunteers go to four neighborhood elementary schools to pick up participating children and bring them to a space located within a few minutes distance. There, they first eat a healthy afternoon snack, before doing their homework with the help of volunteer retirees or with specific support if the teacher has recommended it. As soon as they are finished with homework, children join arts workshops under the supervision of artists in residence and visiting artists. Here, they participate in creative group-projects that they present to their parents and community at the end of each trimester. After parents leave work, they can either take the children home or stay and work with their children on the projects. On weekends, activities are open to parents and children alike. The results are outstanding; teachers and parents agree that all 150 children registered at a Môm’artre center have developed outstanding creative and social skills, and demonstrate stronger empathy.
Môm’artre centers are rooted in their neighborhoods. During the day and late at night, they become community centers that host activities for the community and space for artists. As a result, centers become local pillars, attracting the volunteers and resources they need from the community.
Chantal has designed the service to be particularly accessible to low-income families and single parents, but to also be open to reflect true social diversity. For prices ranging from 10 cents to 7 EUR an hour, families are selected on criteria combining status, income, employment and working hours, transportation time, and number of children. In doing so, Chantal’s centers represent the socioeconomic reality of the surrounding neighborhoods. Single mothers are given specialized support. Not only do their children benefit from the afterschool program (i.e. 35 percent of registered children are from single parent families), but toolkits are distributed to single mothers, and they are invited to join weekly self-help groups, in addition to having access to all the activities offered at the center. Chantal is progressively integrating partnerships with citizen organizations in order to provide employment workshops at Môm’artre centers, while children are engaged in other activities. Through this specialized support, she is creating a hub to empower single mothers.
Until 2008 Chantal juggled another job to raise her family. However, she is now devoted full-time to work on her project and developing a franchise of Môm’artre centers. Chantal has taken the lessons learned from her first center in the north of Paris and formalized a franchise model when opening her second center in the east of Paris, and a third opened at the end of 2010; three other projects are in preparation. She has identified 27 locations in Paris where her model could be readily implemented and is negotiating a framework agreement with those municipalities. She is also conducting feasibility studies in three suburbs. To make this possible, she has formed partnerships and obtained recognition from key local institutions. Chantal is working with the largest real estate developers to obtain adequate spaces in housing projects and exploring other ideas such as retirement homes and other vacant buildings. Chantal is combining funding from municipalities and private foundations and has become a reference model for the sustainability of other social enterprises in the region. Chantal is now lobbying to extend childcare allowances to the age of ten, as it currently ends at age five.
During her childhood in Brittany, Chantal saw her father convert from market gardener to a humanist entrepreneur, heading a construction material company of over 100 people. She grew up convinced that anything is possible through hard work. Like her three brothers and sisters, Chantal moved to Paris, pursued management studies and married young. She embarked on a promising marketing career at a large insurance company, where she was in charge of launching new products. Soon after having two children, her husband abandoned her to move abroad, leaving her alone with their three-year-old and three-month-old daughters.
Chantal had to adjust and learn to juggle a managerial position with very young children in elementary school, with no adequate childcare program. She hired au pairs and tried to find childcare solutions in partnership with her neighbors, but soon realized that they were not sustainable solutions. Chantal grew tired and decided to take a sabbatical. For nine months she lived in Chile with her children and helped a friend set up her company. When Chantal returned to France, the idea of Môm’artre was born. After trying to resume her marketing career, she eventually realized that she was too obsessed with her idea, and with the support of her second husband, launched the first center in 2001. But with four children at home, Chantal took another job with Ashoka Fellow Danielle Desguées’ organization, where she helped would-be entrepreneurs launch their ventures during the day. She worked on Môm’artre at night and on weekends, with the help of her new friend and Môm’artre director.
In 2008 Chantal continued to be impassioned about expanding Môm’artre. She decided to focus full-time on creating a franchise model, which she successfully accomplished with the launch of a second center in 2009. Recognized for her unique idea and entrepreneurial determination, the Municipality of Paris identified Môm’artre as the Parisian childcare solution at the European Childcare Symposium 2009, where Madrid was the first city to express interest in bringing Môm’artre to Spain.