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New study examines quality in home-based child care

Led by Erikson researcher Juliet Bromer, PhD, the study is the first to examine family child care networks on a national scale.

When working parents weigh their child care options, one choice is home-based care provided by a relative, friend, neighbor, or in some cases, a regulated family child care provider. Many parents choose this type of care—known as family child care—as the first non-parental setting for their young children.

But despite the prevalence of family child care in the United States, little is known about how to support quality in home-based settings. Now, a new, groundbreaking research project led by Erikson Institute is exploring how staffed family child care networks, which provide support and resources for home-based child care providers in many states, can improve the quality of care children receive. The three-year study, funded by the Pritzker Children’s Initiative and the W. Clement & Jessie V. Stone Foundation, is the first effort to examine the national landscape of programs that support home-based child care.

“These are the settings on every block, in every neighborhood,” says Juliet Bromer, PhD, who is leading the study. “Many of the young children come from low-income backgrounds, because home-based providers can often accommodate families’ irregular work and school schedules. I believe we have a moral obligation to improve care in these settings.”

Family child care networks are often invisible to families exploring child care options, but they can make a difference in the quality of care. Child care providers who are part of networks can take advantage of support including professional development opportunities and in-person technical help. One of Dr. Bromer’s previous research projects revealed that providers in Chicago affiliated with a family child care network were more likely to offer higher quality care than those that operated independently.

Since then, the federal government has recognized the value of family child care networks, identifying them as recommended strategies for states in the effort to expand the supply and improve the quality of infant-toddler child care.

However, what isn’t as well known is what makes a successful network, leaving state officials without sufficient evidence about which programs to support, Dr. Bromer says. With the new study, she aims to develop an understanding of what policies, practices, and characteristics among networks across the country translate to higher-quality care.

“These providers see themselves as more than child care,” she says. “They are the safe haven on the block. They serve an important neighborhood cohesion function, because they are home all day—everyone knows them. There’s an intimacy they have with the families, something very different from center-based care and an aspect of quality that is rarely talked about.”

Recognizing similarities between home-based child care and home visiting support programs for parents, Dr. Bromer has collaborated with her colleague Jon Korfmacher, PhD, a professor on the Erikson faculty and an internationally recognized expert in home visiting research. Together, they are determining what types of support and resources can best help home-based providers provide quality care. To do this, Drs. Bromer and Korfmacher are adapting measures used in home visiting research to be applicable to the new study on family child care networks.

The study’s first step has been to distribute a survey to more than 400 home-based child care networks and other support programs across the country. Dr. Bromer and her team aim to reach programs in every state, including tribal communities. Findings will determine which programs will be part of the in-depth study that follows. Erikson researchers will then interview network directors and survey network staff and family child care providers to understand how each network operates and the experiences of providers who receive services.

Ultimately, the study holds the potential to establish the type of knowledge about how to improve quality in home-based child care that already exists for center-based care. In both settings, there are opportunities for children and families to experience high-quality caregiving and education.

“The setting where care takes place doesn’t determine quality,” Dr. Bromer says. “Quality is based on interactions and relationships between caring adults and children.”

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