July 10 , 2019

Great Expectations – But Will Funding Match a More Ambitious Vision of Family Child Care?

By Kendra Hurley

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As New York City’s Department of Education (DOE) assumes responsibility for the City’s publicly funded early education system, it has been articulating its vision in a series of Requests for Proposals (RFPs). These RFPs solicit providers for the entire City-contracted early education system, which the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) historically oversaw, and which includes child care and preschool programs ranging from Head Start classes to home-based child care services. 

Last month, DOE released its third and final RFP in this process. It gives careful thought to what has often been an overlooked part of the City’s early education portfolio: the small “family child care” or “home-based child care” businesses that offer subsidized care out of providers’ own homes. These programs serve about 23,500 young children who either receive City-contracted care or whose families pay for care with publicly subsidized vouchers. The programs enroll about 60 percent of New York City 0-2-year-olds receiving publicly funded child care.

In the RFP, DOE outlines the City’s first vision for family child care that is clearly distinct from center-based care. Much of it aligns with what the Center of New York City Affairs and our family child care advisory board recommended three years ago, and holds real potential to strengthen home-based programs, which have much smaller budgets and staffing than child care centers.

But like a previous solicitation from DOE that led to outcry from advocates and providers, this latest RFP is vague about funding levels, leaving some in the family child care world concerned there will not be enough resources to realize DOE’s ambitious goals. While the plan raises requirements for home-based programs that enroll 3-year-olds as well as for organizations supporting and monitoring all the programs, it does not appear to also raise per-child payment rates. And the RFP fails to offer clear financial incentives for home-based providers to improve program quality and to enroll children younger than 2. 

Other key takeaways in the RFP include: 

As expected, the City will continue to contract with family child care networks, rather than individual programs. But in an important acknowledgment of the particular strengths and needs of family child care, networks need not be connected to child care centers, and staff must have experience specific to family child care. 

The City currently contracts with network organizations to recruit, monitor, and work with family child care programs—an arrangement many studies have found to be associated with higher-quality care. But historically, New York City's networks have received scant guidance for how they should be structured or improve program quality. This has led to wide variations in staffing, training, supervision, responsibilities, and pay among the networks. 

DOE’s plan for family child care improves on this significantly, with clear guidelines for how networks should be staffed. Along with two new director positions requiring master’s degrees, networks must have staff with experience particular to family child care, and will now need to hire separate staff members for monitoring the programs and for providing them with twice-monthly coaching visits, among other supports. 

This separation of monitoring and support roles is important. Regular, frequent onsite relationship-based coaching visits are effective in family child care quality, according to emerging research. Coaching works when the coach builds trust with providers—something hard to establish when she doubles as monitor. 

The RFP is, however, vague about how funding will be allotted to networks, raising concerns that it won’t be commensurate with these new expectations. “I’m not sure how networks who don’t [already] have all of this in place are going to … meet these requirements,” says Diana Perez, vice president of home-based child care services at WHEDco, a social services non-profit in the Bronx.

Family child care officially has a seat at the 3K table, with new requirements tailored for them, such as the creation of 3K classes that also enroll infants and toddlers. Such “mixed age” programs could help protect the City’s limited supply of infant and toddler care. But it appears that DOE hopes to maintain mixed-age settings without raising the rates providers receive. 

Mixed ages are an important part of what makes the family child care business model work, because many providers rely on having a certain number of children older than 2 years old in order to pay for the heavy staffing required for infants and toddlers. Under the RFP, providers with a Child Development Associate (CDA) credential, or who are on the path to earn one, will be able to also enroll 3-year-olds through the City-contracted early education system, which will earn them the title of 3K providers. 

This will allow 3-year-olds to stay in home settings, while requiring their teachers to have a credential far more attainable for staff with high school educations than what is required in school and center-based 3K programs, where teachers must be college graduates and certified teachers, or be on a path to certification. Teachers in schools and centers are also paid at a higher rate.  

Allowing 3-year-olds to receive free 3K in home programs maintains an important road for those programs to survive. Meanwhile, making an exception for 3K in home-based programs that allows them to also serve babies could help sustain the city’s precious supply of infant and toddler care. 

But the RFP does not appear to provide either a boost in rates paid to providers for enrolling 3-year-olds or an incentive to continue to serve infants and toddlers. Instead, it appears rates will stay flat. This is despite the fact that providers must pay assistants the increased State minimum wage, and despite the fact that the State recently raised the rates that home-based providers receive for families paying with vouchers.  (Vouchers will continue to be overseen by ACS.) This means that providers are likely to receive more money for children whose families pay using vouchers or who pay privately than for those enrolled through the City-contracted child care system. And those without CDAs will need to earn that credential to serve 3-year-olds, making it a new requirement of staying in business.  

Children in home-based 3K programs will be taught by teachers who have received less training and are paid considerably less than 3K teachers in schools or centers.  

In planning for 3K in home programs, DOE’s challenge has been to include a large number of home providers, many of whom do not have college degrees, while ensuring that all children in 3K—whether they are in a center, school, or home-based program—receive high-quality “play-based learning and responsive instruction.”  

The CDA requirement is the apparent solution.  Home-based providers with CDAs will have had far less coursework and training than teachers in centers and schools, which is part of the justification for their lower pay. 

Many in the family child care world are pleased with this compromise. They say it will go a long way to stabilizing the family child care workforce while also improving quality for infants and toddlers in 3K programs. And these teachers will receive coaching and other supports from networks with certified teachers on staff. But others say the resulting discrepancy in teacher requirements will create a tiered 3K environment, where the poorest children are taught by less-qualified, lower-paid teachers. 

“From an administrative point of view, [this] is great. They’re basically cutting the costs of 3K in half” from what 3K costs in centers, says one early childhood stakeholder, who asked to remain anonymous. “But to call it 3K, that’s deceptive. Here you have classes taught by certified teachers with masters’ [degrees] and classes taught by teachers with only CDAs, which is fine, but it’s not the same. And who do you think are the children who are going to be in those 3K CDA programs?”

Perez of WHEDco says that to realize DOE’s vision of high-quality early education that prepares all children for school, the programs must receive ample resources and supports. That will largely depend on the funding. The CDA requirement for home-based providers “is a start,” says Perez, “but without additional supports it may or may not make a difference.” 

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Kendra Hurley is a research consultant, freelance writer, and a senior fellow at the Center for New York City Affairs. Among many other reports and policy briefs, she authored CNYCA's influential investigation of family child care, "Bringing It All Home: Problems and Possibilities Facing NYC’s Family Child Care."