The story of Procare Solutions begins with a dad who saw a child care center needed help.
That dad was Jeff Blum, and he remembers dropping off his 2-year-old son and watching the center’s owners struggle with their accounting system.
“They were saying, ‘there’s got to be a way to computerize this,’” Jeff said.
Jeff was a chemical engineer who did computer programming as a hobby. So he struck a deal with the owners — he’d write them an accounting program in return for free child care.
In the coming nights and weekends, Jeff worked on his IBM computer — it had two floppy disk drives and no hard drive — to solve the puzzle of computerizing an accounting system tailored to the needs of a child care center.
He described the program he wrote as basically a spreadsheet for each family account.
“It couldn’t handle more than one payment per week. It couldn’t handle more than one charge per week,” Jeff said. “It was really limited.”
But that program — limited, yes, but incredibly innovative for that time in the 1980s — can lay claim to being the very first version of what eventually would become Procare Solutions.
Today, we are thrilled to help more than 37,000 customers run their child care centers, before and after school programs and youth organizations in ways that were unimaginable back then. Those tasks include automating tuition collection as well as offering a child care mobile app and an all-digital curriculum tailored to young learners.
As we celebrate our 30th anniversary, we remember that we started by listening to the needs of a child care provider, a philosophy that remains at the heart of our mission.
Let’s take a look some highlights of Procare Solution’s evolution from one man seeking to solve a puzzle, to becoming the largest provider of child care management software!
The Early Days
Jeff grew up in southern Oregon and officially founded Procare Solutions on Dec. 13, 1992, in Ashland with a small team.
“I never worried about making money. I worried about making a better product and providing a better service,” he said.
One of Jeff’s first customers, Carol Levins, helped him achieve that goal.
Carol founded the Creative Kids Learning Center child care centers. Before she and Jeff met at a tech conference, the directors of Carol’s centers — she had six at the time, with more than 200 children at each — struggled under the burdens of handling accounting, writing out ledger cards and navigating a computer system that required using complex codes.
“It was so time-consuming to do everything by hand,” she remembers.
Jeff showed her his program, which by then used icons and was easy to understand.
“That’s what sold me — that I could teach it to my directors,” she said.
One of Jeff’s earliest employees came to her house and spent hours helping her enter information into her computer.
And Carol taught Jeff about the specific needs of child care centers.
“Carol, through the years, made the product much better because of her input,” Jeff said. “I think that’s one of the keys to the success of Procare — listening to what the customers wanted.”
One improvement that Carol successfully lobbied for was getting late fees to automatically post through the Procare software. Her centers’ policy was that once a bill was past due for three days, she applied a 10 percent late fee.
But directors would feel sorry for parents, and collecting that fee was difficult. So once Procare automatically charged the parent, that burden was removed because the software did it.
Fee collection increased and awkward exchanges decreased.
Changing with Technology
In those early days, updates to Procare came in the mail on floppy disks with giant paper manuals.
Carol remembers backing up her information every day on two copies because she was terrified of losing the data … one copy stayed at each center, and the other went home with the director.
The idea of software as a service began to materialize around 2000. That concept was followed by online capabilities and updates that put her, and other center owners and directors, at ease.
Think about if a school flooded, Jeff said. Before a center’s information was stored in the cloud, it would’ve been gone. But with the cloud, a center owner can buy a new computer and load Procare and all the data is there.
“That’s quite an advantage,” he said.
Carol was thrilled to be able to log into her computer at home and see what was happening at one of her schools versus needing to drive there and look at a pile of paperwork.
Carol said she’d call a director and bring up something happening at a school … and the director would be stunned she already had that information.
”As we grew, we would learn more about what the industry needed,” Jeff said. The needs of a single-center owner and the owner of multiple sites were different, but same in the necessity of being able to do accurate reporting and audits, and to get numbers right.
Something that became even easier in 2004 ….
Introducing Payment Processing
That’s the year Procare Solutions started offering payment processing and tuition collection.
“The parents during that time in 2004 and onward were a different generation from when I started in 1980 and opened my first school,” Carol said.
They wanted to pay with credit cards. So centers needed a way to do that. But paying bills then was very different from today, when everyone is accustomed to paying everything from utility bills to mortgage payments though autopay.
“The customer wants miles, they want the bonus of paying the bill and getting something else out of that,” Jeff said of parents who want to redeem the perks of using a credit card.
And using software for automated payments dramatically reduced errors.
“It was like a miracle,” Carol said of the advent of payment processing through Procare. “Push a button and everybody is charged and you get the money in your account like magic.”
Payment errors erode a parent’s trust. Carol said such errors raised a troubling question in parents’ minds: if a center can’t get their account right, how could it be trusted to care for their children?
“What Procare gave to us was a degree of professionalism,” she said.
Center staff didn’t need to intercept parents at pickups and dropoffs to pay their bills — the tuition was paid through Procare.
“It boiled down not only to accuracy, but to time and how you spend your time,” she said.
Since then, Procare has collected billions of dollars in tuition for child care programs. Every transaction is handled with a fee structure that’s one of the lowest in the industry.
Our fully integrated center management platform, billing and payments are automated. That means Procare does the work and gives centers the ability to create and send invoices to parents easily and provide an autopay option.
Mobile App Connects Families and Child Care Centers
As technology and the needs of centers and parents changed, Procare adapted and continues to evolve!
As smartphones became a staple of life, Procare introduced a child care mobile app that has topped more than 2.5 million downloads in Apple’s and Google Play’s app stores.
Centers can share real-time updates such as videos and pictures with parents. Families and other caregivers can sign their children in using a QR code. Staff can sign in using their phones as well (and their timecards are updated automatically!).
Centers can manage all billing transactions, payments, refunds and credits from the app. Families can even sign and return documents electronically from it as well.
A Digital Curriculum for Early Learners
In early 2022, Procare Solutions teamed up with Learning Beyond Paper, Inc, the leader in digital curriculum, to offer early educators a tool they’d been waiting for: an embedded, fully online curriculum program tailored to child care centers with a year-round program.
Procare Early Learning Powered by Learning Beyond Paper is an all-digital curriculum specifically designed to meet the unique needs of educating children from infancy through pre-kindergarten.
The integration with Procare makes this curriculum program easy to use. New content, training and tools arrive automatically! It’s designed so teachers of all experience levels can understand it easily.
It includes more than 4,000 daily activities for infants, younger toddlers, older toddlers, preschoolers and pre-kindergarteners.
Our customers asked for this, so Procare delivered.
Still Listening, Always Innovating
The roots of Procare Solutions grew from its founder listening not only to the needs of the daycare his son attended, but also Carol and other users as the company expanded.
“I used to see his wheels turning in his brain,” Carol said of her conversations with Jeff all those years ago when she’d pitch an idea. “It was ‘let me think about that.’ And I knew he was going to.”
Carol and Jeff are both retired, but the foundation Jeff created of listening and innovating remains unchanged.
Procare Solutions continues to grow. Now headquartered in Denver, Colorado, we have offices in four cities in four states with hundreds of employees including software developers, engineers, account managers and a large support team ready to help.
Recently, new enhancements were made to Procare to include Programs and Insights capabilities to help centers achieve their enrollment goals while giving more flexibility in what extra offerings they provide to increase revenue:
New staff scheduling allows administrators to name and edit a staff schedule that shows which shifts that staff members are scheduled for with how many hours they are scheduled for in the week.
We will always listen and respond to the struggles of child care centers, as we did during the pandemic and continue to do as daycares grapple with serious staffing shortages.
We will never stop working hard to support the vital role child care centers play in educating children through reducing the administrative burdens of running a child care center.
As our founder Jeff says, “there is no one guide to managing a daycare. There are so many ways to run a child care center and different regulations to follow in different states.”
That’s why it remains as important as ever for all child care providers to have easy-to-use software, something he wondered all those years ago if it could be accomplished.
“And the answer is yes, it can,” he said. “And that’s what Procare Solutions figured out how to do.”