Family Child Care in Kentucky—Where did it come from and where did it go? – Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence
Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence

Family Child Care in Kentucky—Where did it come from and where did it go?

Guest Blog Post by June Widman, Executive Director, Appalachian Early Childhood Network

What a life changing time these past three months have been! And I’m not just talking about the pandemic!  I am now the proud parent of a beautiful baby girl—and now I have to return to work.  I thought I had child care figured out, but the center just closed the infant room because a staff member tested positive for COVID-19.  Now what am I supposed to do?  I’ve called other child care centers in the area, but no one has an opening for an infant!

If this had been a scene occurring in 1990 in Kentucky, this parent would most likely have had to start calling friends and neighbors, looking for recommendations for someone who can “babysit” on a daily basis. Depending on where in Kentucky this family lived, there may or may not have been a Child Care Resource and Referral Agency available to help find appropriate child care.

If this same scene had occurred ten or fifteen years later—anywhere in Kentucky—the family could have called a toll-free number and connected with a referral counselor who would have given information about the various child care program options in the region.  They would have also provided some guidance on what to look for in a child care program to best fit the needs of this particular family.  The referral counselor would have made sure the parent understood the types of regulated child care that existed, including certified small family child care homes. If the parent felt more comfortable leaving their young infant in the care of a qualified family child care provider, they could have chosen from among the over 1,200 Certified Homes in existence throughout the Commonwealth.

But instead, this is a scene from today—2020—and the number of Certified Family Child Care Homes had dwindled down to less than 250 in Kentucky before the Governor asked all child care programs to close in March.  Even though certified programs could open back up in early June, there are currently less than 200 Family Child Care Homes operating at this time. Although today’s parent has a few more tools at their disposal to help in the search for child care, you can’t find what isn’t there!

What happened to Family Child Care?

Prior to 1992, anyone who wanted to care for four or more children (not related to them by blood, marriage, or adoption) for ten or more hours per week—regardless of the setting—had to get a license to do so.  If they were looking to care for children in their home, they had to be able to meet all of the qualifications and standards contained in the regulations for a Type II license. Those regulations were only slightly different from the ones that applied to child care centers serving more children.  Consequently, very few Type II licenses existed in Kentucky.

Along with small business owners, many schools, churches, and non-profit organizations looked for ways to support the growing need for child care in Kentucky.  There was not a good business model for child care that worked well in all communities, especially where family incomes were low, and the ability to pay for care was limited. In 1992 advocates from across the Commonwealth worked with legislators to pass Senate Bill 211, part of which established certification for small family child care homes.  Certified homes could provide care for up to six children not related to the provider.  SB211 also established a system to fund local agencies providing Child Care Resource and Referral (CCR&R) services throughout Kentucky.

Part of the responsibility for nurturing the development of this newly established form of regulated care fell to the CCR&Rs. Getting the word out to potential providers, setting up “How to Start a Family Child Care Program” sessions, and speaking to local civic organizations all became part of the way that CCR&R staff were trying to meet the “resource” part of their Resource and Referral obligations.  Several agencies became sponsoring rrganizations so that certified family child care programs could participate in the Child Care Food Program and receive reimbursement for feeding nutritious meals to the children in their care. CCR&R personnel provided training specific to Family Child Care operations, and offered technical assistance to meet the particular needs of home-based care.

In the meantime, the Division of Child Care was training a small cadre of personnel to be the Certification Specialists. They were responsible for granting certification to qualified applicants, and monitoring the programs. Small grants were made available to family child care providers to help with the start-up costs.  There were also grants to assist with the cost of fencing to create a safe outdoor play space in provider’s yards.

As the number of family child care programs was beginning to increase in Kentucky, there was still the issue for many parents—especially the growing number of single parents—of their inability to pay for child care. The national 1996 Welfare Reform legislation meant more families with very limited incomes would be needing child care. While some assistance with child care payments was made available through the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) funds, it wasn’t enough to meet the growing need. In 1997, with funding from the Federal Child Care and Development Block Grant, Kentucky set up a system of Service Agents to run the Child Care Assistance Program regionally.

Family child care programs became better known as an option for families seeking care, especially for infants and toddlers where the home setting was seen as especially appropriate. Parents with children of different ages liked the idea of keeping siblings together in a small group.  Many Family Child Care providers offered extended hours, and had the flexibility to work with families whose jobs demanded non-traditional work schedules. Family child care homes could be set up virtually anywhere across the Commonwealth, answering the need for child care in places that could not support the greater costs associated with a larger child care center.

Even though it was less costly to establish a family child care business than a center, increased regulations were impacting the cost of all forms of regulated care in Kentucky.  The emphasis on the indicators of high-quality in childcare programs led to the creation of a Quality Rating System as part of the KIDS Now legislation passed in 2000. By 2002, the STARS for KIDS Now quality rating program included a grid specific to Certified Family Child Care Homes. Supports and incentives were available to assist providers with program improvements and achieve higher levels of quality.

With this level of attention and supports in place, the child care infrastructure in Kentucky began to grow.  The number of Certified Homes surpassed the 1,200 mark before the end of the first decade of the 21st century.  But then a number of factors emerged in a relatively short time that resulted in a rapid decline in that number.  While it’s difficult to parse out the exact impact of each factor, the congregation of them all has nearly destroyed the option of Certified Family Child Care in Kentucky.  Contributing to the demise (in no particular order) is the increased cost of meeting the minimum requirements for certification, the increase in local municipalities implementing zoning restrictions on home businesses, and the decrease in funding for the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP).

The CCAP moratorium that was put in place in 2013 meant no new families could access assistance to child care payments until June of 2014.  And even then, eligibility for the program was decreased from 150% of the Federal Poverty Level ($33,075 annual income for a family of four) to 100% FPL, or a maximum income of $22,050 for a family of four.  Parents in search of affordable care had to find it outside of the system of regulated child care. By January of 2014, the number of Certified Family Child Care homes in Kentucky had already dropped to 455, and the steady decline continues into the present day.

What have we learned from the past that might help save the business of Family Child Care, and maintain it as an integral part of Kentucky’s child care infrastructure?  Can we find a way to put the supports back in place that encourage people to open their hearts and homes and engage in the noble profession of caring for other’s children?

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