Child care offered in a provider's own home is the most common child care arrangement for young children from low-income families, yet national studies have found the quality of home-based family child care to be wanting. In 2012, New York City launched one of the country's largest experiments in raising the quality of subsidized family child care. More than three years since the launch of EarlyLearnNYC, the Center for New York City Affairs investigated what has worked and what has not. 

Our findings, documented in this report, are mixed. We found pockets of important work (see "Innovative Trainings") and we saw the pride that providers feel as they begin to view themselves as educators rather than babysitters. For some family child care providers, EarlyLearn has deepened their understanding of early childhood development, including the value of identifying and addressing developmental delays early.

But we also found problems, including a misfit between what EarlyLearn providers can do and a number of the reform’s requirements. In many cases, standards more appropriate to child care centers were grafted onto the family child care programs. Some of these new requirements, while noble in intent, were insufficiently tailored to the realities and limitations of family child care providers, and failed to enhance the small, warm, nurturing home environments that are unique strengths of this model of care.

Key findings include:

  • Requirements that home-based caregivers prepare daily written lesson plans and make detailed evaluations of each child’s educational needs and progress are often unmet because they’re unworkable for providers, many who have limited education and do not speak English or Spanish. (See "In the Shadow of Centers.")
  • One result of EarlyLearn's intense documentation mandates appears to be an attrition of providers not linguistically comfortable with the requirements. A CNYCA analysis of ACS data found, for example, that today there are 40 percent fewer city contracted home-based providers with Chinese surnames than there were before EarlyLearn. (See "Lost in Translation.") 
  • People familiar with the system estimate that only about half of the City’s more than 1,700 EarlyLearn family child care providers are “up to speed” in meeting EarlyLearn requirements. (See "Paperwork Vs. Board Books.") 
  • In interviews, support staff at network organizations consistently identified “home visits” from a trusted coach as holding great potential for improving program quality. New research on family child care echoes this finding. However, EarlyLearn provides very little guidance on what the goals of a home visit are, or how they should be carried out. As a result, the quality and types of support that EarlyLearn family providers receive vary from network to network and even staff member to staff member. (See "The Struggle to Improve Quality.") 
  • Network staff say their contracts with ACS don’t cover the costs of administering home-based care. Many pass some costs to providers in the form of administrative fees that vary widely from network to network and, thus, lead to different rates of pay among the home-based providers, who are already paid very low wages. (See "Scraping By.")
  • A growing number of families receiving subsidized child care are turning to licensed, group family child care. Fewer now use informal arrangements with friends, families and neighbors. (See "Seeking an Early Education.")

This report proposes two overarching course corrections to help EarlyLearn achieve its goal of improving family child care:

  • The City should revise its practice of borrowing child care practices created for more structured and staffed child care centers and grafting them onto the home-based programs. Instead, it could look to the home visiting field for models.
  • The City should provide clearer quality guidelines for the network support staff who work with family child care providers, framing their roles as both coach and monitor with clear expectations and ample resources.

In line with these proposals, the report includes recommendations from an advisory board of experts and stakeholders assembled by the Center for New York City Affairs.

"Bringing It All Home: Problems and Possibilities Facing New York City's Family Child Care" is made possible thanks to the generous sponsorship and leadership of the Stella and Charles Guttman Foundation as well as to the generous support of the Child Care and Early Education Fund. CNYCA's reporting on children and families is additionally supported by the Child Welfare Fund and the Sirus Foundation.