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Assessing Initiatives for Family, Friend, and Neighbor Care

Author: Toni Porter
Publication Date: March 2007

This is an excerpt from the full brief

Child care provided by family, friend, and neighbor (FFN) caregivers—home-based child care that is legally exempt from regulation—is of growing interest to parents and policymakers for several reasons. Chief among them is that it is the most common type of child care for children under age 5 whose parents work (Maher & Joesch, 2005; Snyder, Dore, & Adelman, 2005). Nearly half of all children spend their days—and sometimes their nights—in these types of settings (Boushey & Wright, 2004); nearly a quarter of children whose care is subsidized by Child Care and Development Funding (CCDF) also use these arrangements (U.S. Child Care Bureau, 2006).

Additionally, in recent years, the question of what kinds of child care programs best prepare children for kindergarten has emerged as a dominant issue in the early care and education public policy agenda. It has been propelled, in large part, by two factors: the national focus on children’s school achievement and the widespread creation of state-funded prekindergarten programs for 3- and 4-year-old children. One of the consequences of these trends is increasing attention to outcomes for young children, especially their readiness for school. All early childhood programs now face the challenge of demonstrating that they produce positive results.

Growing awareness that so many children are in these unregulated settings and concerns about school readiness have generated increasing interest in efforts to support these caregivers. More than a quarter of the states now fund initiatives specifically aimed at family, friend, and neighbor child care (Porter & Rivera, 2005). Private foundations and federal agencies such as Early Head Start have become engaged as well, providing funding for programs in communities across the country.

What kinds of services do these initiatives offer? How many caregivers participate? Do these efforts have any impact on the caregivers and the children for whom they provide child care? Research can answer these kinds of questions, but information about programs for family, friend, and neighbor caregivers is limited. The field is still in its early stages: many initiatives are less than five years old. There are few published reports about these programs, and they have focused primarily on their implementation rather than their effectiveness (Pausell, Mekos, Del Grosso, Rowand, & Banghart, 2006; Porter & Kearns, 2005a; O’Donnell, Cochran, Lekies, Diehl, Morrissey, Ashley, & Steinke, 2006).

This paper presents an overview of current efforts to document or evaluate initiatives for family, friend, and neighbor child care. The initiatives are grouped into two categories: those that view these caregivers through the child care lens and aim to improve the quality of care that they provide to children; and those that see these caregivers and their care as a natural extension of the family and aim to strengthen it through approaches drawn from parent education or family support. In some cases, the distinction between the models is blurred because the strategies they use are similar. In other cases, initiatives may rely on more than one strategy to achieve their goals irrespective of the model.

The descriptions of each model include information about goals, service delivery strategies, and the information that is commonly collected. Examples of several specific programs are provided to illustrate the models. Most of the data are based on interviews with program administrators and staff as well as program reports. If there have been formal evaluations, these are described as well.