As the spread of COVID-19 continues, parents’ concerns for the health and safety of their children will only continue to grow. Child care programs that serve small groups of children are a reassuring option. States should use the proven strategy of networks to organize and support small, individual home-based child care programs to both ensure health and safety for all now, and for the future of child care.
With states and communities having taken steps to close businesses and order residents to stay at home, business closures are shrinking the supply of child care programs at a time when essential service workers need them most. BPC’s recent national poll with Morning Consult shows that home-based child care, also known as family child care, is most likely to remain open. Home-based child care programs cannot shoulder caring for children in a public health crisis alone. This resiliency warrants investment by state policymakers. It is also imperative that state policymakers finance home-based child care strategies now to begin preparing for the future of child care.
The reasons many home-based child care providers remain open are complex. With the smallest profit margin of all child care program types, home-based child care programs face significant financial pressure to keep their doors open. At the same time, home-based child care offers an advantage. Serving small groups of children, and often the same children, in a residential setting, home-based child is an ideal setting for families cautious of large gatherings in congregate care. In a recent BPC-Morning Consult poll, parents shared that their primary concern when considering returning their children to a formal child care setting is exposure to COVID-19 (75%); a higher concern than the affordability of child care (46%) or the likelihood their program of choice will be open (47%). This parental concern is unlikely to recede. As Harvard University researchers found that social distancing practice may need to continue until 2022, small home-based child care programs are a valuable option for communities as they gradually re-open their economies in future months.
Particularly, states need to fund networks of home-based child care programs using the $3.5 billion for the Child Care and Development Block Grant in the CARES Act. Unless organized through a formalized system, supporting home-based child care programs efficiently is a significant challenge. Home-based child care programs operate independently from one another, making it costly to deploy resources quickly. Models that build networks—including shared service networks, staffed family child care networks, and Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships—create economies of scale and open gateways for state policymakers to directly access multiple home-based child care programs at once. Network structures are flexible to community need, yet they all centralize operational functions including recordkeeping, professional development resources, as well as supporting peer-to-peer interactions, creating economies of scale for home-based child care programs. For example, a new resource from Opportunities Exchange defines the potential components for staffed family child care networks. A cost estimation tool developed by the Administration for Children and Families within the Department of Health and Human Services provides an accessible resource for states to quickly determine what level of investment is needed.
In addition to efficiencies, networks also provide a mechanism for states to equitably include home-based child care in the same resources and feedback loops offered to larger center-based child care programs. For home-based child care programs that remain open at this time, networks can assist in distributing health and safety guidelines, cleaning supplies, and personal protective equipment. Networks offer a trusted communication channel, so home-based child care programs can participate in policymaking conversations with state leadership.
Established networks are proving critical at this time. For example, Infant Toddler Family Day Care, a northern Virginia-based home-based child care network, has responded to the public health crisis with an action plan for providers, enrollment assistance for essential service worker parents, and clear health and safety policies to keep children safe. Let’s Grow Kids, a shared service network in Vermont, is supporting emergency loans for child care by covering a $25 membership fee for credit union non-members as well as the first loan payment.
States have an unprecedented opportunity to invest in home-based child care network infrastructure now. This important investment will support the home-based child programs that remain open now as a crucial support for our healthcare, food service, and other essential service worker parents, while shoring up the future of child care.