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In The Wings - Issue 3

Family Child Care

 

As the world continues to transition after the pandemic, it is important to focus on the future of early care and education. Over the last few years, we saw how crucial this service is to our country. One essential segment of child care is family child care (FCC).


FCC providers typically operate small, home-based programs that are the primary source of care for our youngest children. Many of whom are children of color and children from low-income communities. FCC is often flexible, affordable, and often available during non-traditional hours that many families need to support their careers and household. 


Family child care providers need and want higher-level professional development and leadership opportunities. Providers are more likely to pursue professional development if they have better accessibility. This includes online learning, or in-person classes offered when providers can attend, technology supports including equipment, and funding. 


In this issue, we interview two leaders in the family child care industry about their insights around challenges and opportunities facing the industry.  

 

Interview with Dr. Ellaine B. Miller, President Elect of National Association for Family Child Care (NAFCC)

 

ProSolutions Training (PST): Can you give us a brief history of your experience in early care and education and family child care?

Dr. Ellaine B. Miller (Dr. Miller): I started my career path in Early Care and Education as a graduate student at Auburn University. After an assistantship in the University lab school, I realized that I wanted to support those who worked directly with children and help them turn research into practice. 

While I was a grad student, I worked with a faculty advisor to create the Family Child Care Partnerships program – a state-wide accreditation facilitation and professional development program for licensed home providers in Alabama. 

I quickly became involved with the National Association for Family Child Care including being a member and then chair of the Accreditation Council, Board Member at Large, Vice President, and now President Elect of NAFCC. 

I have also served on the Advisory Board of the Alabama Family Child Care Association, and currently I serve as the chair of the finance committee for the Professional Family Child Care Alliance of Georgia. 

PST: What impact have you seen the pandemic have on the family child care field? What major adjustments have providers had to make?

Dr. Miller:  Family child care providers were a shining light of stability during the pandemic. Of course, some programs closed, and others struggled, but by and large, family child care stayed open and remains open for business. The continuity of care cannot be beat. 

Family child care providers had to grow a lot professionally during this time. Many were faced with technology challenges they never had before and never expected to have. Older family child care providers or those caring for medically challenged or fragile family members had to make some tough decisions. Most providers had to make significant financial adjustments until states made pandemic relief funds accessible. We are just now starting to see signs of economic stability in the field. 

PST: What do you feel are the critical training needs for family child care providers? What professional development opportunities do you see that need to be filled?


Dr. Miller:  Family child care providers need higher-level professional development and leadership opportunities. The topics run the gamut. 


The pandemic created opportunities for people to access training on-demand or from the comfort and convenience of home. I suspect more professional development hours were earned during the pandemic than in the 10 years prior. The gaps in training I see include intermediate and advanced level offerings in every category. 


Providers want more support in dealing with challenging behaviors and professionalizing themselves.


I believe providers would pursue the Child Development Associate credential, technical degrees, associate degrees, and bachelor’s degrees if those opportunities were made accessible. 


Accessibility includes online learning, or in-person classes offered when providers can attend, technology supports including equipment, and funding.


PST: What do you see as the future for early care and education and with family child care providers in particular?

Dr. Miller:  Family child care providers are in need of higher-level professional development Family child care providers are here to stay and are stronger than ever. It is paramount that family child care be included in any expansion of public-funded or universal preschool for all. 

Parents deserve to have every choice of environment available so they can be assured of the best fit for their children. Family child care offers a unique setting for children and families – one which allows for more one-on-one attention, lower ratios, and keeping siblings together.

PST : What are the main challenges and concerns that you think family child care faces today?

Dr. Miller:  Family child care providers do face challenges. Pandemic relief funds have started to stabilize the workforce and the field of child care, but economic recovery has not yet been realized. Family child care providers are still in need of technology supports including modern equipment, IT support, and even high-speed internet in many cases. 

We must continue to provide online training and support for providers. There has never been a time when so many home providers had this degree of access to professional development opportunities. It is important not to go backwards. 

Home providers also face the threat of losing children to public preschool programs if states choose to exclude them from the choices parents have, and if states put qualifying barriers in place making it out of reach for participation. 

It is critical that advocacy groups rally and make state decision makers aware of the benefits of high-quality family child care and what truly qualifies a home provider to be eligible to serve publicly funded preschool students – it’s not always the college degree that matters.

PST: Are there any other organizations you look to for guidance?

Dr. Miller:  The National Association for Family Child Care offers many resources and supports for providers. Most states have a NAFCC regional representative who acts as the voice of family child care with the national organization. Many states have associations for family child care providers as well. 

The Professional Family Child Care Alliance of Georgia is an excellent resource for Georgia providers (and others). During the pandemic, the Alliance put together a crisis management team to address economic and health concerns specific to family child care providers in Georgia. The Alliance obtained funding to create and maintain additional supports for existing programs as well as for people interested in starting a family child care learning home. 

The Explore Family Child Care, Association Advantage, and Staffed Family Child Care Network programs (funded by 9to5, United Way of Greater Atlanta, and Quality Care for Children) are operational and key to building capacity in family child care, providing networking and professional supports to providers, and reaching the needs of home providers through shared services. 

PST: Tell us a little bit about yourself when you aren't working, what do you like to do for fun?

Dr. Miller:  When I’m not working or volunteering on behalf of family child care providers, I like to embroider, quilt, read, and listen to music. Family time is a lot of fun. We are enjoying our little grandson, Preston, who is about to turn one year old and always look forward to spending time with our son and daughter and their significant others.

PST: And finally, our favorite question… If you could take a training course about anything topic outside early care and education, what would it be and why?

Dr. Miller:  I crossed off one of my bucket list items last fall by taking a course in mediation. I am a registered neutral in the state of Georgia, and if I could take another course outside of the ECE world, I would enroll in the domestic relations dispute resolution course and take the trauma informed mediation class.


Interview with Jennifer Drake, Director of Network Development

All Our Kin was founded in 1999, as a response to ramifications of the 1996 welfare reform legislation for families with low incomes. Especially mothers who were single, with very young children, and who struggled to find both decent work and affordable high-quality child care. 


It started in the Brookside housing project in New Haven, CT with two staff members, six women, six children, and one core belief: 


All children deserve access to high-quality early learning opportunities. 


Today, All Our Kin is a national nonprofit organization that trains, supports, and sustains family child care (FCC) providers through a combination of direct services, technical assistance and policy and systems change. 


Fortunately, ProSolutions Training was able to collect some insights from All Our Kin’s Jennifer Drake, Director of Network Development. 


ProSolutions Training (PST): What are the main challenges and concerns that All Our Kin helps to solve?


Jennifer Drake: Across the country, many families are struggling to find safe, affordable child care that meets their needs, and are often forced to choose between their family’s economic survival and their children’s safe, healthy development.


Meanwhile, FCC businesses are closing rapidly across the country. We’re at a pivotal moment for the future of FCC. 


Our mission to transform the child care system addresses these challenges and results in a triple win: 

  • child care providers succeed as business owners; 
  • working parents find stable, high-quality care for their children;
  • and children gain an educational foundation that lays the groundwork for achievement.

PST: I love your mission that the organization trains, supports, and sustains family child care providers. What are you working on currently to make that happen?


Jennifer Drake:  Thank you. We’re definitely a mission and values driven organization. We’re addressing our mission in three ways. Through our staffed FCC network direct service work, we have found that participation in All Our Kin programs leads to direct, positive outcomes for providers and families. 


We serve nearly 1,000 FCC providers, who in turn educate and care for over 6,000 children from chronically under-resourced communities in Connecticut and New York City. 


Through our technical assistance, we train and advise organizations across the country who want to build their own capacity to increase the supply, quality, and sustainability of FCC. Our approach is all about partnership and collaboration: we value the relationships that our partners have with FCC educators in their communities and leverage the knowledge that partners have about challenges and opportunities in their local child care landscape. 


We offer technical assistance on FCC business development supports, policy advising, educational coaching, licensing support and staffed FCC network development. Partners in more than 21 states have been trained in our model.


Through our policy and systems change work, we ensure that FCC is represented at the table when decisions about funding, programming, and systems design are being made; address challenges and opportunities in policy at the local, state, and federal levels; and facilitate opportunities for FCC educators and families to connect with policymakers and make their voices heard. Last year, across our 3 strands of work we impacted over 40,000 child care spots. 


PST: Do you work with any partners or other organizations?  

Jennifer Drake: Partnerships are critical to all three strands of our work. Our partners include community-based organizations, unions, child care resource and referral agencies, child care provider groups, state and local governments and national organizations. 


For example, among our many partners, we’re proud to highlight our partnerships with the National Center on Early Childhood Quality Assurance, the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services, Iowa Child Care Resource & Referral, and S.T.A.R Inc. for Early Childhood Educators in St. Louis, MO. 


PST: What impact have you seen the pandemic have on the family child care field? What are the major adjustments that providers had to make?


Jennifer Drake:   Our country’s reliance on family child care has never been clearer. Even in the worst phases of the COVID-19 pandemic, many licensed FCC providers continued to offer care.  In small group settings and during nontraditional hours they provided care for children of healthcare professionals, emergency responders and other essential workers. And FCC providers themselves are essential workers.  


FCC providers flexed their business models to provide safe, supervised settings for school-age children while schools were closed. They supported students’ virtual learning while meeting the needs of the younger children in their care. They leveraged their expertise in maintaining safe, clean environments and further enhanced their cleaning and sanitation practices to mitigate spread of the virus. They made changes to support physical distancing and health protocols. And all of this meant that they absorbed huge increases in related costs cutting into their already too-thin margins.  


While doing all of this, many providers also found creative ways to stay connected to families who weren’t attending. And they also found creative ways to stay connected to peers and to continue their professional development, taking advantage of social media and online opportunities. 


PST: What do you feel are critical training needs for family child care providers? What professional development opportunities do you see that need to be filled?


Jennifer Drake: Our approach to identifying training needs is rooted in our strengths-based, relationship-based approach to working with FCC providers. We combine training with coaching and reflective practice. And we work with providers to plan and deliver training that is responsive to their strengths, needs and interests–pulling in their voices and leadership as much as possible. 


During the pandemic, especially though, we saw critical training needs around FCC business practices. In service of those needs, through our staffed FCC networks, we offer business training and coaching directly to providers. And through technical assistance, we offer a business train-the-trainer course that equips others to teach our business series and provide follow-up coaching.  


PST: What do you see as the future for early care and education and with family child care providers in particular?


At a time when public health concerns make the small group size, flexible hours, and strong, trusting relationships that are the hallmark of family child care particularly attractive for children and parents, it is likely that the demand for FCC will increase. 


Government at the federal, state, and local levels and communities are increasingly recognizing that supporting FCC is a key strategy to address gaps in child care access, quality, and affordability. We’re also seeing increased interest in staffed FCC networks–as a workforce support strategy to address retention, recruitment, and compensation. 


We’re encouraged by recent federal investments in child care and by the opportunities to invest in staffed FCC networks afforded by American Rescue Plan Act funding, but it is critical that Congress recognize child care as a public good and make robust investments in a mixed-delivery child care system that includes FCC. 


PST: Tell us a little bit about yourself when you aren't working, what do you like to do for fun?


Jennifer Drake: I love to travel. Living in the Midwest, there are lots of fun places to visit within a day’s drive. My favorite destination is probably a cabin tucked away in the mountains, but I enjoy a sunny beach and the energy of a big city too. 


If you could take a training course about anything outside of early care and education, what would it be and why?


Jennifer Drake: I really like to garden so I think I’d like to take a master gardener training course. There’s something so rewarding about planting something small, nurturing it and seeing it grow. And I’d like to learn more about honeybee- and butterfly-friendly plants.