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State Policies to Support Home-Based Child Care During COVID-19

States are currently tasked with deploying $3.5 billion designated for child care in the federal CARES Act. Home-based child care is worthy of investment and supportive policies. Serving small groups of children in a residential setting, home-based child care could be the program of choice for millions of parents as communities re-open in coming months. States should seek out policy opportunities to shore up home-based child care programs for health and safety assurance today and to prepare for the new reality of child care in the near future.     

The National Survey of Early Care and Education estimates that 1 million home-based providers care for 3 million children from birth through five years old. While state and local efforts have focused primarily on child care centers during COVID-19, home-based providers are a resilient component in the overall child care system. BPC’s recent national survey, conducted by Morning Consult, shows that home-based child care, also known as family child care, are the most likely to remain open.

Serving small groups of children in a trusted community-based setting, home-based child care may be the program of choice for families concerned about their children’s exposure to COVID-19 in the coming months. These programs are worthy of inclusion in state policymaking and a necessary target to ensure the stability of child care in the future. BPC offers the following recommendations to support home-based child care both now and as our country moves into a new paradigm following the current public health crisis:

Make Health and Safety Paramount. In mandated business closures, some states allowed home-based child care to remain open without specific guidance, as larger center-based child care were closed or had to seek emergency waivers. As home-based child care providers in Pennsylvania demonstrate, a divided approach sows confusion for families and home-based child care programs as health and safety standards are unevenly communicated. Home-based child care programs should be included, at a minimum, in any policy decisions that impact the whole of child care and be included in stakeholder conversations with policymakers about child care.

The central emphasis on health and safety should also be included as states quickly expand their pool of available child care to meet the needs of essential service workers. The federal Child Care and Development Block Grant Act of 2014 mandated health and safety requirements for both licensed and licensed-exempt providers in order participate in subsidized child care programs. As the recent CARES Act allows states to disregard income eligibility requirements when providing child care support to essential workers, states are compelled to increase the availability of child care with expediency. For instance, New Mexico is granting temporary registration to new license-exempt child care providers to provide in-home care. These temporary providers will be required to complete online health and safety training, online CPR training, and a background check before they are considered for public funding.

Emphasizing that health and safety is central for all home-based child care options now will ensure best practice in regulatory enforcement across all child care provider types and build parental expectation for health and safety practices regardless of their program preference in the future.

Stabilize Through Payment Practices. As home-based child care steps forward to shoulder the support for essential worker families, it is imperative that their financing is stable to ensure continuity. Home-based child care is reimbursed at a lower rate in nearly every state for subsidized child care, even while they often work longer hours and are the only option for non-traditional hour child care. States can correct this disparity through two approaches – contracts and enhanced payment rates.

During the public health emergency, contracts for publicly subsidized child care—rather than reimbursement—guarantees a steady payment amount, even as attendance shifts occur for some children of essential workers. Enhanced payment rates, such as those implemented by North Carolina and Illinois, enforce that child care’s frontline workforce is recognized for the essential work they are doing, similar to other professional fields that have offered hazard pay to keep baseline services functioning. In the long term, child care contracts and enhanced rates are two meaningful ways to support continuously functioning home-based child care programs. Contracts can especially play a vital role in growing the types of services home-based child care can coordinate, such as mental and behavioral healthcare for children, as the need for comprehensive services may increase due to children’s experiences during the public health crisis.

Use Business Partnerships to Open a Supply Pipeline. In recent weeks, every essential service has struggled to purchase masks, gloves, and appropriate cleaning supplies that are in short supply throughout the country. For home-based child care programs that operate as micro-businesses, supply chains are challenging to access even under typical circumstances. In order to keep home-based programs healthy and well-supplied, states can tap into new resources through partnerships in the business community.

As demonstrated by Colorado, a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant was used to purchase baby wipes, diapers, and formula and included an additional request for necessary healthcare items, including thermometers and cleaning supplies. Executives Partnering to Invest in Children, a nonprofit of business leaders in support of early childhood, helped organize these efforts and is seeking donations from member organizations with the idea that while many companies are closed, they likely have supplies that could be donated to help with immediate needs. New Mexico’s governor’s office is partnering with public and private entities to coordinate food and supply deliveries across the state. Child care programs are able to complete a webform detailing the food and cleaning supplies they need to serve their children and families. Bringing business to the table will help private partners both support scalable solutions to meet immediate needs and grow business leaders’ recognition of the essential place of home-based child care in the child care ecosystem.

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