Child care comes in many forms, and the quality of care can differ across provider and type of care. While fewer children are cared for in in-home and family child care (FCC) than in child care centers, FCC is an important part of the early care and learning landscape. As such, improving the quality of family child care is challenging but necessary. Several state and local programs across the country are using networks to address the unique challenges for FCC and in-home providers and improve the quality of care children and families receive.
The National Center for Early Childhood Quality Assurance found that parents cite a number of reasons for choosing FCC, including flexible hours, location, lower cost, mixed-age groups that allow siblings to be cared for together, and cultural preferences. In rural communities, the home-based option may in fact be the only option. However, there are also reasons parents choose not to use FCC. Parents generally desire reliable care and can be concerned if their FCC provider has an emergency or gets sick. Additionally, more and more, parents want their children learning something. But studies show that in-home providers are less likely to use a curriculum or prepared set of learning and play activities than child care centers. Similarly, one signal for parents of a provider’s quality is accreditation, and there is such a program for FCC providers. However, according to the National Association of Family Child Care Providers, just 10,000 of the roughly 1 million FCC providers have been nationally accredited. The lack of support and the isolation of many providers are key barriers to increasing rates of accreditation.
FCC providers care for millions of children ages birth to five, and are more likely to care for infants and toddlers than center-based programs. As brain research continues to evolve, parents are increasingly aware of the importance of the first five years and want to know their children are getting the foundation they need for later success. The future of FCC as an option for parents may well depend on FCC providers’ own ability to improve their knowledge and skills and to create networks that support quality enhancements. During the next year, states will receive an unprecedented $2.37 billion increase in funding through the Child Care Development Block Grant. As established in the 2014 reauthorization of the block grant, 11 percent of this funding, or approximately $260 million, must be spent on quality initiatives. Now is the time to increase professional development opportunities and create networks that support both parents and providers.
Improving the quality of FCC is challenging because individually, home-based providers care for a small number of children, making it costly to provide support. The National Survey of Early Care and Education estimates that 1 million FCC providers care for 3,091,000 children birth through five years old, while 129,000 centers care for 6,980,000. Logically, state and local efforts to improve the quality are more likely to focus on centers, where they are able to reach more children efficiently. However, innovative models have sprung up across the country to help ameliorate some of these challenges, including those that focus on building networks of providers. These networks take different forms based on community need, but they all centralize operational functions such as recordkeeping, and share services such as training, access to curricula, and space to engage with families. They also provide resources that are designed specific for the home-based settings. For example:
- All Our Kin, a Connecticut based organization, manages FCC networks, enabling providers to connect with each other and access a variety of shared services, including professional development through coaching and training, zero interest loans and grants, financial management training, and advocacy and leadership opportunities.
- Monday Morning Inc., a New Jersey based organization, is another innovative model. The organization serves as a centralized system between families and providers. They advertise for providers, loan them learning materials and curricula, offer training and mentoring, and guarantee a substitute (drawing from their network of providers), so that providers can take a vacation or sick day, as needed. Families, in turn, have access to reliable child care from providers who have been screened, have certifications of good health, and receive professional development.
Finally, the Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships program, though federally administered, is all about local solutions. Many states and communities have chosen to include FCC providers as part of their models. For example:
- Colorado’s partnership takes a shared services approach. Child care partners receive access to two important technologies: 1) a resource platform that enables them to access a variety of training and informational resources, and 2) a records management system, which enables them to centralize and streamline all their recordkeeping. Providers also have the opportunity to access assistance with their financial services. The recordkeeping system helps providers track child enrollment and attendance, immunization records, subsidy information, and child eligibility on a variety of programs, among other variables. In addition, it enables programs to track continuous improvement efforts, coaching schedules, and teacher credentials.
- In Alabama, Auburn University manages 50 FCC homes that are a part of the state’s Early Head Start-Child Care Partnership. The university manages professional development opportunities, which include a cadre of coaches who provide mentoring and guidance to providers; connects providers to state agencies and other community-based organizations to ensure the children they serve receive comprehensive services such as healthcare, dental care, and early intervention; coordinates family engagement opportunities; and supports providers in pursuing higher levels of training and education by helping them accessing online coursework and ensuring that they have the technology and internet access they need to enroll in and be successful in their schooling.
Though the individual capacity for any one family child care provider is small relative to centers, millions of America’s youngest children spend their days in these settings. Many parents prefer these settings, particularly in the earliest years. Despite this, this program option is often left out of quality initiatives, leaving FCC providers to fend for themselves with fewer resources. Lifting up and investing in these networks can help ensure that all of our young children, regardless of where they receive their early care and learning, can thrive.