Early Childhood Education
Family Child Care
Family Child Care is one of the diverse options for employed families in the United States for the early care and education of their children. Family Child Care refers to either nonparental or relative early care and education that is provided in a family child-care provider/educator’s own home. The names kith and kin and relative care are given to family child care/educators who provide care and education for their own or relative’s children. Family child-care providers/educators, in addition to offering safe and healthy environments that support the development of young children, serve as managers of their small business. Throughout the United States, a majority of families seeking out-of-home care bring their young children aged birth through five and often through school age to family home care providers. Current estimates suggest that more than 4 million children, including more than 25 percent of infants and toddlers, in early care and education can be found in family child care homes.
Advantages and Disadvantages for Families
For many families there are distinct advantages of family child-care homes in comparison with center-based care/education programs. These advantages include but are not limited to: fewer children/more individualized care/education; mixed ages of children; possibility for selecting caregivers with language and childrearing practices similar to the family; location in a family home, thus less formal and school-like; sometimes lesser costs than center-based care; consistency of one care/educator; nutritious home-cooked food; flexible, more nontraditional hours, and possible emergency (temporary) services; possible location in family’s neighborhood; care/education for multiple children in family; accessibility for children with special needs and school age children; and curriculum based on real life activities.
On the other hand, some families find disadvantages with care/education in family child-care homes that include but are not limited to: lack of consistency of quality, lack of standards (80-90 percent are nonregulated), multitasking of family care providers/educators who simultaneously care for children and engage in routine home maintenance tasks, isolation of family care providers/educators from other care/educators, lack of same supports and resources as child-care centers, care of family care provider’s/educator’s own or relative children, lack of public perception of family care/educators as professional and neglect by the profession, and lack of age mates for their children. Families are also concerned that family care providers/educators may lack the professional training and resources to promote the physical, cognitive, social-emotional, communication, and creative development of the children in their care.
Quality of Family Child Care Homes
Despite the increasing numbers of children in family child care homes, the early care and education profession has directed the least amount of attention to this category of child care perhaps because family child care homes are private businesses and not as much in the eye of the public as child care centers. Until the 1990s, there were fewer research studies, publications, and journal articles addressing issues relating to family child care than there were about child-care centers. Reasons for lack of research include the lack of visibility of family child care/educators, the informality of the setting as compared to educational centers, lack of willingness of family child care providers/educators to participate in research, and the turnover rate of family child care/educators. These studies that have been conducted and the publications detailing the findings of the research have focused on understanding both the context of family child care and the quality issues related to family child care.
Quality in child care for all types of programs including family child care is a continuous discussion in the early childhood profession. According to a recent synthesis of research, findings suggest that “high quality child care programs promote children’s cognitive development (for example, language and math skills), foster children’s social skills (interactions with other children, behavior management, for example), and encourage higher levels of school readiness.” Weaver (2002, pp. 16-20) suggests that, on the basis of this research, there are numerous identified characteristics of “master providers” which significantly impact the quality of care/education in a family child care home. These factors include: regulation through licensing, a life long learning disposition, a high level of “psychological well-being,” a commitment to the child-care profession, established and varied community connections, and dependable financial resources.
Family child care/educators throughout the United States have access to a variety of regulatory systems and opportunities for professional development. Some states mandate regulations and other states offer options of licensing or registering. Licensing offices, food programs, and resource and referral programs are just three of the many monitoring systems available for family child care. In addition to state regulations that typically focus on safety and health issues, family child care/educators have other tools available to review the quality of their programs. Harms and Clifford (1989) developed The Family Day Care Rating Scale (FDCRS) for family child care/educators themselves to rate the comprehensive quality of their home or as an instrument for an outsider to observe. Family child care/educators can also seek accreditation through the National Association of Family Child Care (NAFCC).
Many family child care/educators have not had formal training in early childhood education, child development, health, safety, and nutrition, family and community collaboration, business management, and other areas related to family child care. Options for professional development for family child care/educators include but are not limited to: resource and referral agencies, community colleges and universities, specific state training programs, and local, state, and national conferences. There may be fewer options available to family child care/educators in rural areas. In addition to enhancing knowledge and skills, professional development opportunities provide opportunities for family child care/educators to network with others. Some states/communities establish networks of family child care to diminish the isolation that family child care/educators experience by working in their homes.
As the number of working families increases and family child-care homes become the choice for many families, the early childhood profession will have to focus efforts on further understanding the context and quality of family childcare homes. In the absence of national policies to insure affordable, accessible, high-quality early care and education programs, there are efforts in many states to require higher standards and more rigorous licensing requirements for family child-care providers. Research efforts are important to learn about developmental outcomes for young children who participate in family child care/education and to influence public policy regarding family child care/education.
Further Readings: Harms, T., and R. M. Clifford (1989). Family day care rating scale. New York: Teachers College Press; Kontos, Susan, Carollee Howes, Marybeth Shinn, and Ellen Galinsky (1995). Quality in family child care & relative care. New York: Teachers College Press; Kontos, Susan, Carollee Howes, Marybeth Shinn, and Ellen Galinsky (1992). Family day care: Out of the shadows and into the limelight. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children; Peters, D., and Alan R. Pence, eds. (1992). Family day care. Current research for informed public policy. New York: Teachers College Press; Solnit, June S., ed. (1999). Family child care handbook. 6th ed. California: Child Care Resource and Referral Network; Weaver, Ruth H. (2002). The roots of quality care. Strengths of master providers. Young Children 57(1), 16-22.