Immigrant Care Providers Have Been Ignored For Too Long

As the United States diversifies, so too do the care needs of families and children. Immigrant caregivers have accounted for an increasing proportion of the Early Childhood Education and Child Care (ECEC) workforce over recent decades, comprising nearly 18 percent of workers in the field as of 2011–2013.

These workers provide quality, culturally competent care, but most are in the lowest-paying jobs, working in informal settings and providing home-based care to friends, family, and neighbors (FFN). Nearly all (98.7 percent) of FFN providers are women, and half of all immigrant caregivers in the ECEC workforce are providing private home or family-based care. For too long, policymakers have ignored the needs of women of color working in child care. We must address the needs of immigrant care providers to create equitable investments in child care. 

Many immigrant parents prefer to use FFN care for their children because these providers reflect the diversity of their communities, especially when compared to other types of care, like preschool, that are not as representative. For example, the majority of program directors and preschool teachers (87 percent) speak only English and only nine percent speak Spanish. In contrast, around 23 percent of family-based care workers speak Spanish. Furthermore, FFN care is sometimes the only viable care option for parents who live in child care deserts (an area where demand for licensed-based care exceeds availability) or work during nontraditional hours. Children who live in areas with the highest share of foreign-born parents are about 13 percent more likely to live in a child care desert than those who live in areas with the lowest share of foreign-born parents. In addition, immigrant workers are 15.7 percent more likely to work during nontraditional hours and 25.2 percent more likely to work weekends compared to similarly situated U.S.-born workers. Only eight percent of child care centers are open during these times, however, making FFN care all the more essential for immigrant families. 

Although home-based providers outnumber center-based providers and serve more children, FFN care is largely undervalued by federal and state policymakers. Child care programs and resources are generally focused primarily or solely on licensed providers and are often limited or unavailable for FFN (license-exempt) providers. As a result, for the majority of FFN providers, parents and guardians are often the only sources of payment for the care they provide, and earnings average merely $7,420 a year.

Immigrant providers are often discouraged from becoming licensed due to costs, language barriers, and real or perceived barriers related to their immigration status. Even when a state does allow FFN providers to participate in the subsidy program or other support programs, the various barriers that can keep immigrant providers from becoming licensed may also keep them from applying for these benefits. 

Families have increasingly sought out FFN care during the Covid-19 pandemic, hesitant to enroll their children in large group settings. By early September, the percentage of households using FFN and other home-based care exceeded pre-pandemic levels. However, federal relief funds targeted licensed providers, and many FFN providers—particularly those who are immigrants or who speak languages other than English—had difficulty accessing crucial relief funds. A recent NWLC survey found that only 38 percent of Spanish-speaking FFN providers indicated that they received subsidies or other financial support other than payments from parents, compared to 74 percent of English-speaking FFN providers. 

The challenges experienced by immigrant women working in child care are nothing new.  Even prior to the pandemic, nearly 22 percent of immigrant ECEC providers were living in poverty. This lack of appreciation or fair compensation is part of a broader, historical trend wherein work done by women of color within private homes is not recognized as “real” work, either by the public or policymakers. 
NWLC recommends several guidelines for federal, state, and local policymakers to better support FFN and immigrant caregivers, including: 

  • Increase overall federal, state, and local funding for child care and FFN care specifically. 
  • Ensure child care training, resources, and support are culturally and linguistically appropriate and accessible for all providers. 
  • Provide dedicated funding for community-based organizations that work with FFN and immigrant providers.
  • Proactively reach out to FFN and immigrant providers, using multiple channels of communication and appropriate languages to inform them about available support. 
  • Seek input from FFN and immigrant providers in developing child care policies and programs.

As the Biden administration moves toward making critical investments in our country’s care infrastructure, immigrant providers who have been treated as invisible must be centered, heard, and supported. 

By Dhwani Kharel, Former Child Care Intern