By Marsha Basloe, President of CCSA
As businesses throughout North Carolina re-open their doors, parents will be returning to work. For parents with young children, access to affordable, quality child care will be critical – not just to support the ability of parents to return to work, but also to ensure that children are in a safe setting that promotes their healthy development.
While the state gradually moves toward re-opening in stages, it is far from returning to business as usual. As of May 28, more than 25,400 individuals in North Carolina had tested positive for COVID-19, 708 individuals were hospitalized and 827 individuals have died. The release of the April unemployment data last week shows more than 573,000 individuals statewide are unemployed.
The curve may be flatter, but a vaccine for COVID-19 is unlikely any time soon and there remains no cure or treatment to date. As parents return to the workforce, one thing is clear: anxiety about COVID-19 exposure remains high. A recent nationwide poll from the Bipartisan Policy Center found that among parents with children under age 5, their top concern about returning to work and using child care is exposure of their children to COVID-19 (75 percent), higher than concerns related to affordability (46 percent) or the likelihood that their child care program will be open (47 percent).
What Other States are Doing
In a live Zoom webinar on May 28, “State Child Care Administrator Forum COVID-19: What Worked, What Didn’t, What’s Next,” 10 state child care administrators from throughout the country shared their experiences and insight, including Susan Perry, the Chief Deputy Secretary, NC Department of Health and Human Services.
All of the child care administrators expressed concern about the economic model for child care currently and in the year(s) ahead. All mentioned the importance of child care for parents returning to work and expressed concern about the economic viability of sustaining an adequate supply. Many mentioned a renewed interest by parents in family child care homes, a shift from prior parent preferences for center-based care for their children.
Child care administrators thought the shift in parent preferences was related to continued anxiety about COVID-19 in larger group centers, and a possible preference for smaller family child care settings in the neighborhood with no commute necessary and a small known group of families.
The Kentucky child care administrator, Sarah Vanover, shared her experience with five new pilot programs in that state involving networks of family child care (FCC) providers. It was inspiring to hear about networking family child care providers with a staffed hub of services (e.g., providing backend services such as billing or business technical assistance to support best business practices, other professional development supports to meet the needs of children of various ages and offering culturally responsive approaches to learning).
Another FCC home-based network that was underway involves a partnership with employers. In several communities, the state has supported a network of family child care homes to meet employer needs so human resource administrators in local companies can refer employees to one of the networked homes.
Staffed family child care networks are not new. It may be time to re-invest in them.
Throughout the past decade, family child care homes have declined by more than 20 percent. Over the years, given the strength of the economy, most jobs have paid more than working in child care. As a result, many home-based providers left the field. In addition, a focus on serving larger numbers meant the growth of larger centers. However, in today’s economy and given the anxiety about COVID-19 exposure, it may very well be time for the re-emergence of licensed family child care homes.
A smaller environment with more flexible hours, a neighborhood location and the ability to meet the needs of families (e.g., siblings can be cared for together) often are characteristic of family child care. What staffed family networks can offer is an ongoing menu of support related to predictors of high quality such as licensing, professional support, training, financial resources, business and administrative support, materials and equipment and the ability for providers to share experiences, which reduces the isolation of individual family child care home providers.
The vast majority of home-based providers care for children younger than age 5 and are more likely to care for infants and toddlers than center-based programs. A number of studies have examined the relationship of family child care home network affiliation and quality caregiving and found that participating home-based providers offer higher quality care.
Support In North Carolina
In North Carolina, Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies (CCR&R) have operated a strong Infant Toddler Quality Enhancement Program statewide, coordinated by CCSA, since 2004. With additional resources for Infant Toddler Quality and Core Technical Assistance services, CCR&R agencies could expand to support staffed family child care networks, including incentives and additional support to start a licensed family home-based child care business, offer care during nontraditional hours and better support special needs children. Southwestern Child Development Commission has a Family Child Care Home (FCCH) Project for the CCR&R network and a FCCH Spotlight that will highlight FCCH providers that are doing amazing things across the state of North Carolina!
There are resources available and more are being developed to support these efforts. Self-Help’s Child Care Business Basics course can help family child care homes succeed as child-care business owners. Opportunities Exchange supports the business of early care and education to improve child outcomes.
NC ECE Shared Resources already offers a statewide online shared services platform that includes a family child care toolkit with a robust array of resources upon which staffed family child care networks could expand.
North Carolina’s Path Forward
What is clear is that the path forward needs to reflect parent preferences as they emerge. Staffed family child care networks are working in other states; it’s time for North Carolina to invest in them as well. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to child care, but offering parents a menu of options, particularly in our nation’s current public health emergency, makes sense.
 NCDHHS, COVID-19 public dashboard.  NC Department of Commerce, North Carolina’s April Employment Figures Released, May 22, 2020.  Bipartisan Policy Center, Nationwide Survey: Child Care in the Time of Coronavirus, April 10, 2020.  Bipartisan Policy Center, “State Child Care Administrator Forum COVID-19: What Worked, What Didn’t, What’s Next?”, May 28, 2020.  National Center on Early Childhood Quality Assurance, Addressing the Decreasing Number of Family Child Care Providers in the United States, 2019.  National Center on Early Childhood Quality Assurance, Staffed Family Child Care Networks: A Research-Informed Strategy for Supporting High-Quality Family Child Care, 2017.  Ibid.  Ibid.  NC Infant and Toddler Quality Enhancement Project  NC CCR&R Services  FCC Spotlight  Self Help  Opportunities Exchange  NC ECE Shared Resources