Last month, the National Women’s Law Center was excited to bring together organizations from around the country that work to support family, friend and neighbor (FFN) child care providers to discuss the challenges experienced by these providers and strategies for addressing those challenges. FFN care providers—generally, home-based providers who are exempt from licensing and who care for children of relatives or friends—play a crucial role in helping families, but they are grappling with both long-standing and new burdens and barriers.
Many parents choose FFN care, and they choose it for a variety of reasons. Some parents feel most comfortable having their children cared for by a relative or a friend or neighbor they know and trust. Some live in rural area or urban neighborhoods that lack more formal child care options. In some cases, particularly for low-income families, FFN care is the most affordable choice. Parents working in low-wage jobs frequently rely on FFN care because it is the only option flexible enough to accommodate the parents’ often non-standard or variable work hours. About half of low-workers report having limited control of their work schedules, and 41 percent of hourly workers early in their careers report knowing their work schedules only one week or less in advance. With so many families counting on them, FFN providers are essential—and so are they organizations working to support them.
These organizations offer training, mentoring, resources, and other supports to FFN providers and employ a range of strategies. Some organizations are working to reach providers by sending them regular texts that offer information on topics such as child health and safety and promoting children’s literacy skills and social-emotional development, and that suggest activities to do with children. Other organizations offer multi-week training courses that providers attend in person. While these organizations differ in many ways—for example, some work at the county level, some statewide, some serve providers that receive child care subsidies while others do not—they share a commitment to strengthening providers’ ability to foster children healthy development and support families.
At NWLC’s recent meeting, the organizations not only highlighted their rich and varied work, but also shared their concerns about the impact of federal cutbacks in key programs supporting parents, children, and FFN caregivers. In addition, they discussed how increased immigration enforcement actions are affecting these caregivers, many of whom serve immigrant families. Finally, they addressed challenges stemming from implementation of the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act of 2014, with reauthorized the major federal child care program. While the law includes important new provisions aimed at improving the health and safety of children in child care, it also creates new demands on FFN providers serving families receiving child care assistance, requiring these providers (unless they are related to the children in care) to comply with new requirements for background checks, health and safety training, and annual inspections. FFN providers need resources and support to meet these requirements, and states need additional resources to ensure that they do not overlook these essential providers.
FFN providers help enable parents to work and support their children. The creative organizations that work with them and the providers themselves should be supported as an integral part of our early childhood system.