By Kendra Hurley with Angela Butel
When New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio ran for re-election in 2017 on the ambitious promise of offering free preschool to the city’s 3-year-olds, classes in living rooms were most likely not what he or voters had in mind. But last month, just over a year into 3K’s multi-year rollout, the City Department of Education (DOE) revealed its intention to bring 3K into the more loosely regulated world of home-based child care settings.
Adding a critical mass of home daycares to the 3K mix will allow the City to more easily serve 3-year-olds in neighborhoods where space in schools and child care centers is tight—and where home-based programs already provide the bulk of child care. But working with the varied and geographically scattered home daycares (also called family child care) will be a dramatic departure from the City’s current Pre-K portfolio, composed primarily of schools and child care centers. There is no playbook for how to effectively include family child care in a public preschool program—most public preschool programs have relied on schools and centers.
This report, informed by interviews with dozens of stakeholders and early education experts, including some in other cities and states, looks at what family child care can aspire to become in 3K, and how to achieve that thoughtfully. Key findings include:
To ensure high quality for children of any age in family child care programs requires investing in program improvement. New York State is responsible for subsidies for family child care and the City DOE will become responsible for paying for 3K services in such settings. Both the State and the DOE should consider offering tiered levels of payment to providers to encourage them to pursue professional development and program improvement. The DOE should consider a tiered system for compensation where, for example, a certified teacher receives a higher rate of funding than the current, uniform low rate all family child care teachers receive. DOE must also provide professional development opportunities to help providers attain greater qualifications, skill sets, and pay.
With the growth of 3K, the potential loss of infant and toddler slots is real and DOE must proceed into this territory with extreme care. Taking care of babies in family child care settings costs more than taking care of older kids because of more intensive legal staffing requirements; as a result many small providers serve a mixed age group to make the staffing requirements work. 3K may alter this delicate balance by either making it attractive for providers to exclusively serve 3-year-olds or drawing 3-year-olds out of the home settings and leaving family daycare providers with only infants.
Understanding this, some local group family daycares are already mobilizing to participate in 3K and shed their care for younger kids. As we report, Los Angeles offers a cautionary tale in this regard; it suffered a loss of infant care when it began using family child care for its targeted public Pre-K program. In the recommendation section of this report, we outline steps that could help the City conserve its supply of infant and toddler care.
New York City is wise to be making family child care an important part of its early education strategy. Family child care has long been the most common form of child care for New York’s very youngest and poorest children, and has much to offer families and children. If the de Blasio administration can protect the precious child care slots these small providers offer while infusing them with new funding and resources, it will be an important win for the City.