Keisha Bailey has been bringing her son to the home of Pam Childress, a home-based child care provider, since he was nine months old. Bailey is a nurse and her shifts start around 5 a.m., so she relies on Childress for after hours and overnight care.
In January, the organization I lead, Home Grown, which supports home-based child care providers, interviewed Bailey.
“Ms. Pam knows [my son] really well,” she explained. “She teaches the kids how to wash their hands and cough into their arms. She teaches them how to get along with each other. And she taps right into his learning abilities and encourages him to learn the things he’ll need for kindergarten.”
Today, May 6, we observe Provider Appreciation Day, a day to acknowledge and celebrate the amazing work child care providers like Childress do every day, intuiting what children need and when, helping little ones develop and grow, and working long, non-traditional hours that few others would be willing to shoulder. This day is also a time to take collective action to address the hardships and systemic barriers that providers face as they support our families.
As Bailey describes, Childress and the millions of other home-based providers like her, work tirelessly to meet the developmental needs of young children, preparing nutritious meals, planning fun physical activities and teaching fundamental skills necessary for reading and learning. Home-based providers also love, cuddle and create safe, stable relationships that allow children to explore and take risks that support learning.
According to the most recent National Survey of Early Care and Education, administered by the Administration for Children and Families in 2019, there are over 5 million caregivers and providers caring for about 6.8 million children ages 0-5 in a home setting. While some of these providers, known as family child care providers, hold child care licenses and operate as small businesses, the vast majority are family members and neighbors who offer care to support members of their community. Think: a child’s aunt or retired grandmother. In the field, these providers are known as family, friend and neighbor (FFN) caregivers. This vast workforce that supports working families is largely unseen in public policy; our systems undervalue—or even ignore—the critical role that FFN caregivers serve in supporting families who work nontraditional hours, live in rural communities and for those who prioritize a known, trusted, culturally congruent caregiver.
The pandemic made clear what was obvious even before: home-based providers, who are the lowest paid workers in the field of early childhood, which is already characterized by extremely low pay, are struggling. According to the Administration for Children and Families, FFN caregivers, when paid, earn on average, only $7,400 per year from their child care work. Family child care providers, net only $29,300 annually.
Each day, more providers permanently close their programs. Child Care Aware of America recently reported that nearly 7,000 family child care providers closed in the first year of the pandemic. We know that providers are deeply committed to families, but many simply can’t manage financially. Data from multiple sources reveals troubling evidence of the hardships providers and caregivers across the country are facing, including:
- Hunger: According to a 2021 report by the RAPID-EC project, an early childhood and family well-being survey administered to a national sample of child care providers every few weeks, 34 percent of FFN caregivers and 26 percent of family child care providers reported experiencing food insecurity during the pandemic
- Housing insecurity: That same report also showed that 7 percent of FFN caregivers and 13 percent of family child care providers reported that they struggle to pay their mortgage or rental payments, or that they are paying them late. This is particularly concerning given that their home is also their location of business.
- Reliance on public assistance: A comprehensive survey of child care providers in California, conducted by the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment, found that one third of family child care providers require at least one form of public assistance.
- Limited access to support: In our research and work with providers, we understand that home-based providers struggle to gain access to loans, relief grants and material support necessary to survive the pandemic and build economic stability. The majority of these opportunities are designed for licensed businesses with salaried employees, limiting access for sole proprietorships, like family child care and FFNs, which do not have a well-understood business structure. Many home-based providers rely on private payment from families and have no relationship to the state or to organizations that distribute grants, protective equipment and other resources.
Failing to recognize the unique contributions of home-based providers results in limited support and low pay. This Provider Appreciation Day, let’s not just see, acknowledge and celebrate these providers, let’s take action to support them. Each of us has a role to play in ensuring that child care providers, including home-based providers, are well-respected and economically stable. Here are some ideas to get started:
- Celebrate and thank your provider. Offer in-kind support to make her life easier—water her garden, walk her dog, make her a meal. Share a handmade, heartfelt card from your child.
- Call your elected representatives and tell them how important child care is to you, how you need relief from child care costs and how your providers need and deserve to earn better wages. Not sure who to call? Start here.
Policymakers and Advocates
- Meaningfully include home-based child care providers—both family child care and FFN providers— in your agenda. Prioritize their needs for funding and support.
- Bring child care providers to the table to voice their needs and help you design meaningful policy changes.
- Invest more. Providers and families need more support; great child care requires substantial investments that reduce costs to families and increase payments and wages for providers.
We are at a critical moment in addressing the needs of families and the home-based child care providers, like Childress, who support them. Failing to act to strengthen provider economic stability and well-being will result in further closures and disrupted care for children and families. Saying thank you is important, but taking action right now is essential.