Town Square summit explores family child care needs and goals

A Family Child Care Leadership Summit hosted by Erikson Institute’s Town Square welcomed providers, thought leaders, and government officials who examined needs and goals of family child care professionals and discussed ideas for moving those goals forward.

“We came away from the summit with meaningful suggestions and thoughts on how to continue to support family child care as an important component of the overall landscape of early childhood,” said Angela Fowler, director of Town Square, an online resource and professional development tool for home-based providers. “Family child care providers were included as panelists and moderators. Part of our goal is to raise the professional profile of providers—this summit was organized for leaders in collaboration with provider leaders.”

Town Square, which launched in January 2016, is a partnership between Erikson and the Governor’s Office of Early Childhood Development, and was made possible through a federal “Race to the Top” Early Childhood Learning grant. The online resource includes videos on child care best practices, professional development webinars, child development articles, discussion forums, and blog entries written by family child care professionals.

Chip Donohue, who serves as dean of Erikson’s Distance Learning and Continuing Education department that led the development of Town Square, welcomed speakers who challenged the nearly 100 participants—many of whom care for children in their homes—to take an active role in advancing their industry, including seeking support and investments from the government.

Linda K. Smith, deputy assistant secretary for Early Childhood Development for the Administration for Children and Families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, asked participants to identify solutions and reach out to elected officials.

“Get elected officials into your homes,” she said. “Let them see what you do. They can’t envision it. Don’t be shy about it. They need to see it.”

Home-based child care is the most common child care arrangement for young children in the U.S, said Juliet Bromer, Ph.D., a research scientist at Erikson who spoke at the summit. More infants and toddlers—especially those from low-income families who work non-standard work hours—are in home-based care than in centers, she said. High-quality family child care has the potential to bring many benefits to children, parents, and communities although research is lacking in this sector of early childhood services.

“Family child care offers the potential for children to be cared for in nurturing, responsive, family-like settings while their parents benefit from flexible and affordable care,” Dr. Bromer said. “Many child care providers tell us that their block is the safest in the community because they are home all day; they essentially act as a neighborhood watch.”

However, family child care providers face many challenges, including a lack of information and resources to help them improve quality of care for children and families.

“These challenges are precisely why Erikson and its partners launched Town Square six months ago,” Fowler said. “We are proud that Town Square has created a space that didn’t exist before.”

Fowler also said that Town Square has encouraged providers to be advocates for themselves. That includes advocating for increased funding, which was a focus of the summit.

The federal government is committed to investing in early child care for fiscal year 2017, Smith added. President Obama’s upcoming budget proposes $82 billion in mandatory Child Care and Development Fund spending over the next ten years, and new child care legislation introduced in Congress would assist child care providers by ensuring payment rates are set at a level that supports high-quality care for young children.

“What we have yet to figure out in this country….is that child care clearly costs more than parents can afford to pay,” she said. “That isn’t an easy conversation for us, but I think the country is ready for it.”