NWLC Meeting Spotlights Family, Friend and Neighbor Child Care

Last week the National Women’s Law Center had the pleasure of convening organizations from across the country that work to support family, friend, and neighbor (FFN) child care providers. These FFN providers play an essential role in ensuring children safety and well-being while their parents work, but they are often overlooked in discussions of early care and education. The Center’s meeting examined strategies for strengthening supports for FFN providers and for increasing recognition for their importance to families and communities.
“FFN care” generally refers to providers who care for a small number of children in the provider’s home, who are legally exempt from licensing, and who are often close relatives or friends, but who may also be someone in the community with whom the family previously did not have a relationship.
Many families choose FFN care because they feel most comfortable having their children cared for by a relative, friend, or neighbor they know and trust, and who may be most familiar with their family’s language and culture. FFN care is often the family’s best option, and in some cases, it may be the only option—if the family lives in a community where more formal child care is scarce or non-existent, if the family cannot afford other child care options, or if FFN care is the only option flexible enough to meet the family’s needs.
FFN care is particularly important to parents working in low-wage jobs, who struggle to afford child care on their limited incomes and who often have evening, overnight, early morning, or variable work hours that few formal child care programs can accommodate. Women, who continue to shoulder the majority of caregiving responsibilities, are overrepresented in these low-wage jobs. And more women may be in low-wage jobs, and grappling with the challenges these jobs often entail, in the future: of the five jobs projected to have the largest job growth over the next 10 years, four of these are jobs typically pay less than $10.50 per hour and women make up more than half the workforce in all five of the jobs. Many workers in low-wage jobs not only have non-standard and unpredictable schedules, but also have little input into when they work—about half of workers report having limited control over their work schedules. As a result, parents in low-wage jobs can find it next to impossible to balance their work and family responsibilities. Many of these parents are only able to maintain this balance because they can turn to an FFN provider who is available to provide care on short notice.
Given the critical support that FFN providers offer to families, it essential to support FFN providers—and that’s exactly what the organizations represented at NWLC’s recent meeting are doing. They offer FFN care providers varied forms of training, ranging from basic health and safety training to in-depth training in child development. For example, the Providers Advancing School Outcomes (PASO) program in Colorado provides 120 hours of training covering social, emotional, and literacy education as well as CPR and other safety training. The organizations also connect providers to community services and to one another so that they are less isolated. The organizations advocate for increased resources and benefits for FFN providers, and help them access resources and benefits that, depending on the state, may be available through the child care assistance program, the Child and Adult Care Food Program, or other programs. The organizations tailor their programs and services to the communities they serve. For example, Child Care Resources in Washington state, recognizing that many youth in the communities it serves are caring for their younger siblings and cousins before and after school, developed the Brothers and Sisters Program. And these organizations find a way to do all of this remarkable work despite serious constraints on funding for work focused on FFN care and, in most cases, little support from policy makers.
Although the specifics of their work vary, these organizations share common goals. From California to Missouri to New York, they are dedicated to FFN child care providers and helping them offer the best care they can, dedicated to parents and their ability to work, and dedicated to giving children a strong start during the critical early years.
The next step is to take these effective models for supporting FFN caregivers—which are highlighted in two NWLC publications, Strategies for Supporting Family, Friend, and Neighbor Care Providers and A Catalog of Strategies to Support Family, Friend, and Neighbor Care—and expand them so that they reach more FFN providers in more communities and states. This will require a wider recognition that FFN care is a key component of the early childhood landscape and greater public and private funding of these types of innovative initiatives. Such efforts to support FFN providers will go a long way toward supporting our most vulnerable families and young children.