Family child care is the most common child care arrangement for young children from low-income families, yet national studies have found the quality of home-based 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, described in an executive summary, are mixed. We found pockets of important work throughout the city 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 development delays early.
But we also found many problems, including a misfit between what EarlyLearn providers can do and many of the reform’s requirements. Central to these shortcomings is that EarlyLearn failed to articulate a clear vision of what quality home-based care looks like for babies and toddlers younger than three, and how to support that quality. Instead, standards more appropriate to child care centers were grafted onto the family child care. Some of these new requirements, while laudable, 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.
- These requirements often backfire; some family child care providers are creating developmentally inappropriate activities such as trying to teach an 18-month-old how to identify numbers. This can undermine the unpressured, homelike environment that makes family child care well-suited for young children.
- People familiar with the system estimate that only about half the city’s more than 1,700 EarlyLearn family child care providers are “up to speed” in meeting EarlyLearn requirements.
- 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.
The 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 for older (ages 3 and up) children in larger and more structured and staffed child care centers and importing them to home-based providers working with toddlers and infants.
- 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 executive summary includes recommendations from an advisory board of experts and stakeholders assembled by the Center for New York City Affairs.
This executive summary and the full “Bringing It All Home” report, which will be published by the Center for New York City Affairs in June 2016, is made possible by 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.
Family Child Care Forum at The New School
May 10, 2016