Oct. 21, 2021
Families across California relied on family, friend, and neighbor (FFN) child care to survive the pandemic. That reliance has only continued as the months wear on and the pandemic deepens the state’s existing child care crisis.
Parents sometimes choose aunties, grandmas, and neighbors to care for their young children because they are the most convenient, the most affordable, or the only available option. But advocates say families also choose these settings because they resemble the home environment and are often culturally familiar. It is an especially common form of child care for infants and toddlers.
FFN child care providers like Gloria Gonzalez, featured in this video produced by Early Edge California, have been taking care of young children for years and bring a great deal of love, knowledge, and skill to their work.
Gonzalez takes care of children whose parents are working in California’s agricultural communities. Children often come to her at 4:00 or 5:00 a.m. She provides children with a safe place to rest, feeds them meals, gives them hugs, and gets older children ready for school.
At its best, FFN care can be child-centered, familial, and flexible. But it can also be fraught if providers don't have enough support. Some FFN child care providers don’t have enough money for adequate equipment or supplies. Some of the providers I spoke with told me they have seen colleagues who are pressured to take in high numbers of children in order to make enough money to support themselves. They described as many as 15 or 20 infants and toddlers in a small room or apartment.
FFN providers also can have a hard time getting paid. Especially during the pandemic, when so many families have been struggling economically, it has become increasingly difficult to collect fees from families. “If the parents only make $60 a day,” one FFN provider asked me, “how can they pay me $25?”
The issues are complex and overlapping, but informal child care is a crucial part of the early learning and care infrastructure and one to which advocates in California say state policymakers must pay more attention.
“They are your neighbor, your grandma, they are a critical part of our care system and need support in order to provide the best care for our kids,” said Patricia Lozano, the executive director of Early Edge California who has been advocating for additional state support for FFN providers.
Across California, programs are working with groups of women in their communities to help FFN providers connect to training programs, workshops, and grants. These resources provide everything from money for supplies, tips on health and safety practices, to training in child development or how to support early learning.
California’s 2020 Masterplan for Early Learning and Care includes FFN providers as a key piece of California’s system, especially in areas of the state with limited formal child care options. The plan calls for revising requirements, working to increase compensation, creating more professional learning opportunities, and providing more support for facilities.
Importantly, the state is starting to make these investments to train FFN providers so they have the skills they need to provide high quality care. That includes some key investments in community programs that have been successful in training this population.
One such program, the Language Learning Project, began in California’s Central Valley and focuses on training early childhood providers to support the state’s growing population of multilingual learners. They’ve trained preschool and elementary school teachers and some formal and informal child care providers. The state funded the project to expand in 2018.
Such investments, advocates say, are recognition that FFN care is a critical part of California’s child care infrastructure.
FFN providers are not just babysitters, but educators, said Mickaela Chant who works at Bananas, a child care resource and referral agency in Oakland. “They deserve the same resources and support that other educators get.”
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