It's Tough to Step Up Without Steps: Building a Ladder for Family Child Care Providers

Blog Post
May 1, 2018

To facilitate interaction among ideas presented in Moving Beyond False Choices for Early Childhood Educators, Series Editor Stacie G. Goffin offers opening comments. For readers new to the Series, her introduction explains the series' intent.

To date, two blogs have explored preparation and education as early childhood educators from the viewpoint of a family child care provider. Tracy Elhert's blog kicked off this thread by encouraging in-home providers to embrace continued learning and development, including higher education degrees. Josephine Queen countered by contending Elhert's blog gave too little attention to the unique context confronted by family child care providers. Jessica Sager expands upon Queen's position by suggesting family child care providers' unique limitations are exacerbated by the fact that their sector is frequently overlooked when ways to incentivize and increase access to higher education opportunities are considered.

Family child care providers play a critical role in our child care system. They often care for our youngest, poorest children and children with the greatest barriers to accessing quality care. And as Ehlert and Queen described in their recent blog posts—which matches my experiences—they are eager to achieve high levels of education and credentials—to “step up,” as Ehlert puts it, as early childhood educators.

However, as Queen also highlights, family child care providers face particular challenges in obtaining formal education and credentials. They often work alone, caring for children 10-12 hours a day, making it difficult, if not impossible, to attend daytime classes. Limited financial resources too often make the cost of formal education out of reach. And available professional development opportunities tend to be offered only in English, a significant barrier to the large proportion of family child care providers for whom English is a second language.

Perhaps the most challenging disincentive, though, is the limited recognition accorded family child care providers given their contribution to early childhood education’s delivery system. Few or no incentives exist to pursue the limited professional development opportunities available to family child care providers. Additionally, what they can charge typically is driven by the economics of children and families in their neighborhoods, rather than their credentials. Consequently, family child care providers are unlikely to reap financial benefit from investing in their education. And in the absence of career ladders that acknowledge and recognize continued growth—in contrast to what is available to their center-based colleagues—encouragement for advancing their education is further diminished.

In this landscape, staffed family child care networks, such as All Our Kin, play a critical role in offering ongoing learning opportunities to family child care providers. These networks offer professional development and training, coaching and mentorship, peer support, and leadership opportunities that make a difference in the quality of care that family child care providers offer, their earning power, and their businesses' sustainability.

On their own, however, staffed family child care networks are insufficient to meet two critical, and twinned challenges. First, many family child care providers seek to obtain formal credentials—specifically, college degrees—and while many staffed family child care networks offer training leading to the Child Development Associate® credential, we are not degree-granting institutions. Second, family child care providers want and need pathways for continued growth and advancement on a scale beyond what small, staffed family child care networks can offer.

Two state institutions, however, are uniquely well positioned to meet these challenges: community colleges and state QRIS systems. If mobilized on a broad scale in partnership with staffed networks, they have the potential to effect significant change in family child care providers’ education, earnings, and impact.

Community colleges have long served as sources of innovation and creativity in designing educational approaches that work for adult learners, particularly learners who face barriers to access. Some community colleges offer training specifically tailored for early childhood educators. These efforts are highly localized, however, and, in many cases, don’t go far enough to alleviate family child care providers’ unique burdens. Course offerings need to be available at night and on weekends; be located in communities where family child care providers live and work; be offered in English, Spanish, and potentially other languages; and contain content tailored to family child care settings. Partnerships with staffed family child care networks can be one effective way to respond to these needs.

State quality rating and improvement systems (QRIS) can solve another piece of the puzzle: creating career ladders for family child care providers tied to increased responsibility and compensation. Quality rating and improvement systems can draw on family child care providers’ knowledge and expertise by engaging them as paid coaches who dedicate a portion of their time to mentoring others—either by visiting on evenings and weekends or by hiring staff to provide part-time coverage. This addition to QRIS would enable family child care providers who complete formal education and demonstrate high levels of program quality to be recognized publicly and recompensed for contributions to their colleagues’ learning and development.

Ensuring the success of these two approaches, however, requires an examination of our attitudes towards family child care providers; neither approach will succeed unless all parties are willing to engage family child care providers as full participants in our child care system and to partner with both providers and staffed family child care networks to shape programs that actually work.

If we truly value equity in early childhood education, training opportunities must be created that work for family child care providers. If we truly value family child care providers, we need to create the conditions necessary for their success, including increased financial resources. And, if we leverage public dollars invested in community colleges and quality rating systems—offering courses that are useful, accessible, and affordable, incentivizing credentials, and creating career pathways and leadership opportunities—we will build a ladder that family child care providers can, and will, climb.

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