NO PLACE LIKE HOME
Investing in Family Child Care Homes for Kentucky’s Youngest Children
Each year, about 165,000 infants and toddlers under the age of three – a number more than the combined population of Bowling Green, Owensboro, and Richmond – learn and grow across Kentucky. Many working families face daunting challenges finding safe, reliable, and vibrant child care options for these youngest Kentuckians.
Their challenges have grown even more acute. Even before the COVID-19 public health crisis disrupted the child care landscape (see Kentucky Child Care Provider Survey), child care centers across Kentucky were limiting enrollment due to challenges finding qualified employees. Far fewer Kentuckians were providing child care in their homes as a family child care provider – those who meet state standards for safety, health, and quality.
According to a 2018 report from the Center for American Progress, half of Kentuckians live in child care deserts – areas with more than three young children for every child care slot. Nationwide, the report found that rural and low-income areas are more likely to be child care deserts, Hispanic/Latino families are more likely to live in child care deserts, and care for infants and toddlers is sparser than for preschool-age children.
Lack of affordable, high-quality child care for infants and toddlers can make it harder for parents to work and for employers to attract and retain talent. It can also have impacts on children – limiting their access to the nurturing learning environments they need in the years of most rapid brain development.
What will it take to help more Kentucky families access high-quality care for their infants and toddlers while they work? With funding from the W.F. Kellogg Foundation and local partners, the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services Division of Child Care and the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence have been collaborating with creative leaders across Kentucky to seed new ideas and find out which ones hold most promise.
The Expanding High-Quality Family Child Care in Kentucky project started with an advisory group of experts, practitioners, and community leaders charged with exploring solutions to increase the supply of high-quality child care options for infants and toddlers. Licensed child care centers with facilities and staff to care for infants and toddlers are an important option for many of Kentucky’s working families. Another, less-known option: family child care homes – licensed or certified child care providers who care for children in their homes and meet state regulatory criteria such as educational credentials, background checks, and health and safety requirements.
The advisory group recommended that the project focus on two intended impacts: increasing access to high-quality infant and toddler care, and building capacity to support family child care home providers. Because family child care homes care for smaller numbers of children, they may have greater viability in rural areas with low population density or neighborhoods with few young children. Even in other areas that can support larger child care centers, family child care homes may prove an attractive option for families with infants and toddlers, who may then prefer center-based care for children once they reach the age of three. These families may prefer the smaller, more family-like environment. Prices may be another factor. According to Kentucky’s 2017 Child Care Market Rate Survey, families face higher prices for infant and toddler care, but on average, family child care homes have lower prices than centers.
In the recovery from the COVID-19 public health crisis, family child care homes will be an even more important part of helping Kentucky families access high-quality care for their young children as they return to work. Since the crisis began, project leaders have expanded membership on the advisory group to include more business and education leaders who have committed to contributing to efforts to recruit, prepare, and find solutions to provide stable funding for family child care providers.
THE FAMILY CHILD CARE LANDSCAPE IN KENTUCKY
According to June Widman of the Appalachian Early Childhood Network (formerly the Eastern Kentucky Child Care Coalition), momentum to establish family child care homes emerged in the mid-1990’s with changes to federal welfare policy, including introduction of the federal Child Care Development Block Grant (CCDBG). State leaders in Kentucky, along with partners such as Save the Children, focused on building capacity to support family child care home providers.
In the last 10 years, Kentucky has experienced a dramatic decline in the number of family child care home providers. From 2013 to 2019, the number of certified homes dropped from over 600 to less than 300. What could be behind this drop? June Widman notes that many of the providers who started in the 1990’s have been retiring. Jill Norris, Regional Childcare Administrator for the Two Rivers Region, also notes that changes to planning and zoning requirements, increases in home owner association restrictions on in-home businesses, and financial realities for the new generation, such as housing limitations and student debt, have also shaped this decline.
With grant funding from the project and local matching funding, leadership teams in five regions across Kentucky (see Table 1) have come together to pilot new approaches to increase access to high-quality child care for infants and toddlers and support family child care homes.
Through the project, the KY CHFS Division of Child Care (DCC) provides ongoing support to each regional leadership team, providing training, marketing materials, and Spanish translations for numerous DCC documents. Child Care Aware (CCA) of Kentucky leaders serve on the project Advisory Group, while CCA regional staff have helped organize provider focus groups in all regions and serve on regional leadership teams.
Each pilot reflects the unique goals, needs, and contexts for the region. The Eastern pilot team, led by the Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky and Partners for Education at Berea College, is building capacity to increase access to infant and toddler child care and support family child care homes through a new Appalachian Early Childhood Network. The Network has started to recruit new family care home providers. It will also provide business and training support through a “hub” model approach in partnership with New Beginnings Center for Children and Families in Perry County.
The pilot team in Louisville, led by the Ready for K Alliance and Community Coordinated Child Care, focuses on recruitment and support of Spanish-speaking family child care home providers. It started by creating a community of practice among current providers and is now building a formal network for providers. DCC has translated numerous documents into Spanish to support the team’s efforts. The team has several early lessons. One is that in network-building among specific populations of providers, it is critical to understand and respond to cultural variation within the population. Another is that working with individuals with credibility and trust in the community is essential.
LEARNING BY LISTENING
The Prichard Committee and DCC, with support from Child Care Aware of Kentucky, have hosted a series of focus groups with family child care home providers. These focus group findings have informed how each regional team designed its pilot project.
The focus groups illuminated several barriers to entry, including intimidating start-up processes, insufficient housing, and unfavorable local zoning laws. Start-up costs to meet regulatory guidelines also play a role. Capacity matters both to entering and remaining in the profession, with many providers citing a lack of business knowledge and skills as well as ongoing challenges with technology. Peer-to-peer guidance and support is often elusive as providers are often isolated from one another, and some coaches may be far more familiar with center-based environments rather than in-home care. Finally, many in-home family child care providers face extraordinary challenges securing sufficient and stable funding.
The Expanding High-Quality Family Child Care Homes in Kentucky project will continue through April 2021. With regional pilot teams active, the next phase of learning will come through finding out what approaches do, and do not, work to recruit more family child care home providers for infant and toddler care and support them in providing high-quality learning environments.
The project will also focus on identifying recommendations for policy and practices to reverse the declining numbers of family child care home providers while supporting quality. Regulatory changes, technical assistance, support networks, and federal and state funding may all play a part in efforts to strengthen the family child care home environment to benefit Kentucky’s families.