HBCC is a vital part of our nation’s child care supply and the most common form of care for children living in poverty. Yet, HBCC providers have fewer resources and supports when compared to providers in child care centers, and many HBCC providers face challenges in providing quality care. Additionally, the supply of licensed and publicly subsidized family child care has declined dramatically over the past decade. This project will: (1) fill gaps in our understanding of HBCC supply; and (2) address challenges defining and measuring quality in HBCC settings. The following research questions will drive study activities:
What are the key drivers of HBCC supply?
- What are the essential features and drivers of quality in HBCC, and how should these features be measured?
- What factors support or inhibit HBCC provider participation in quality improvement efforts and in early care and education systems?
The study team will address these questions by:
- Reviewing existing literature, quality measures and indices, and data sets relevant to HBCC
- Developing a conceptual framework on quality in HBCC
- Analyzing existing data on HBCC provider characteristics and experiences
- Developing a research agenda and design reports to guide future research
If optional services components are exercised, Mathematica and Erikson will collect original data and develop a new measure of HBCC quality.
The study team will engage a variety of stakeholders, including state and local administrators, quality improvement providers, provider networks and associations, policymakers, and researchers, in shaping and learning from contract activities and will communicate project insights to the field through various products, such as reports, briefs, and presentations.
Understanding Features of Quality in Home-Based Child Care That Are Often Overlooked in Research and Policy
Millions of families with children from birth through age 12 rely on home-based child care (HBCC). HBCC, meaning noncustodial care for children in the provider’s own home or the child’s home, is the most common form of non-parental child care for infants and toddlers. It is especially prevalent in communities of color, communities with high concentrations of people from immigrant backgrounds, areas of concentrated poverty, and rural communities.
Yet the research literature on child care and early education (CCEE) quality primarily focuses on center-based settings. Little is known about the features of quality that may be more characteristic of HBCC. Some features might be implemented differently (such as supporting development across mixed-age groups of children) or occur more commonly in HBCC than in other CCEE settings (such as care offered during evenings, early mornings, and weekends).
This brief focuses on these features of quality that are more characteristic of HBCC. Understanding these features might help highlight the strengths, resources, and resilience of HBCC providers that research, program development, and policy commonly overlook.
- What do we currently know about quality in HBCC, and what are the gaps in the knowledge base? Research on HBCC lags behind research on center-based CCEE settings, such as private and community-based child care, Head Start, and prekindergarten. And within HBCC, more research is focused on regulated family child care settings than on family, friend, or neighbor settings. Limited research exists on (1) how providers define quality in HBCC and how they implement these features; (2) how implementation of quality features may vary across HBCC settings; and (3) how quality features relate to child and family outcomes.
- How does the HBCC Supply and Quality project conceptualize quality in HBCC? The project’s conceptual framework of HBCC quality highlights the potential strengths of HBCC. It describes quality features and groups them into four broad components: (1) safe and healthy home environment that fosters development, learning, and equity; (2) culturally and linguistically grounded provider— child interactions that nurture children’s self-identity and healthy development; (3) family supports and supportive provider—family relationships that promote family well-being; and (4) healthy working conditions and resources for sustaining HBCC. The conceptual framework suggests that the characteristics and experiences of the provider, the HBCC setting, the strengths and needs of families and children in care, and the local community are all potential influences on quality.
- What features of quality are more commonly found or are implemented differently in HBCC compared with other CCEE settings? These features are categorized into four quality components and include the following:
- Safe and healthy environment in the provider’s home: predictable routines, opportunities for informal learning; and opportunities for interactions with community and community resources.
- Culturally and linguistically grounded provider—child interactions: support for children’s positive peer interactions and pro-social skills, including mixed-age peer interactions; proactive behavior management and promotion of anti-bullying; support for positive racial, ethnic, and self-identity; engagement in language interactions with children and support for language, including support for children’s first language and/or bilingualism.
- Family supports and supportive provider—family relationships: cultural responsiveness to and connectedness with families; and flexible schedules and logistical supports within clearly communicated boundaries (including help with non-childcare tasks)
A Research Agenda for Home-Based Child Care
To build the evidence base on home-based child care (HBCC) availability and quality, the HBCC Supply and Quality project developed an equity-focused research—or learning—agenda. The goal of an equity-focused research agenda is to use research to help ensure everyone, especially people from historically excluded and/or marginalized communities, has fair and equitable access to resources and opportunities and the capacity to take advantage of them. The agenda is a proposed set of research questions about how the conditions and systems that affect HBCC and how HBCC providers’ practices and experiences influence positive and equitable outcomes for children and families in these HBCC settings. The agenda encompasses the following topics: (1) the gaps in the knowledge base about HBCC availability and quality, and the research questions that need to be answered to fill the knowledge gaps; (2) research activities that could be conducted at the national, state, and local levels to answer the research questions; (3) recommendations for future research activities that could be conducted as part of the HBCC Supply and Quality project.
- This agenda prioritizes research questions that can help the early care and education (ECE) field understand and address some of the systemic, institutional, and community-based factors that perpetuate inequitable experiences among HBCC providers, children, and families, many of whom live in underserved communities. It also prioritizes questions that highlight features of quality that are implemented differently or are more likely to occur in HBCC than in other ECE settings.
- The research questions in the agenda are grouped under the following four topic areas: (1) availability of HBCC, the providers who offer it, and the families who use it; (2) HBCC provider experiences caring for children and families, and the relationship between quality features and outcomes; (3) policy contexts in which HBCC operates, including related opportunities and challenges; (4) ECE and community-oriented strategies that contribute to HBCC providers’ engagement in quality improvement.
- For each question in the agenda, research should examine how characteristics vary both within and across HBCC settings, provider backgrounds, the children and families who use HBCC, and the communities HBCC is provided in. In addition, throughout the research agenda, there are questions exploring the ongoing challenges and pressures faced by HBCC providers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
This agenda includes recommendations for four research activities that can help fill gaps and could be carried out through the HBCC Supply and Quality project: (1) analysis of data from the National Survey of Early Care and Education; (2) a multisite mixed-methods study of HBCC; (3) case studies of state and local ECE systems and community-oriented strategies; (4) measures development focused on quality features that are implemented differently or are more likely to occur in HBCC.
Quality in Home-Based Child Care: A Review of Selected Literature
Millions of American families rely on home-based child care (HBCC), which is child care offered in a provider’s home or the child’s home. HBCC encompasses providers who offer regulated family child care (FCC) and those who offer unregulated family, friend, and neighbor (FFN) care. Yet the research literature on child care quality focuses primarily on center-based care. This report summarizes findings from a review of existing literature on the features of quality in HBCC settings and the provider and neighborhood characteristics that may influence these features. The review includes 29 literature reviews and 59 primary research articles primarily published since 2010, including peer-reviewed articles and grey literature. The review documents the types of evidence and types of HBCC settings described in these publications, along with evidence of the mechanisms that link features of quality to provider, child, and family outcomes. This review is one component of the HBCC Supply and Quality project, and findings will guide how the project team understands and approaches quality in its work on other project components.
- The review identified four broad components of quality in HBCC, each with several quality features: (1) home setting and learning environments; (2) provider-child relationships; (3) provider-family relationships and family supports; and (4) conditions for operations and sustainability. Most research concentrated on FCC providers.
- There is more evidence in the research literature on quality features that are found across ECE settings than on quality features that may be more likely to occur or to be implemented differently in HBCC settings.
- Ample evidence detailed how provider characteristics interact with quality components and features in HBCC. Literature described the importance of neighborhood context in parenting and children’s developmental outcomes.
- Several gaps in the literature suggest directions for future research on HBCC, including: providers, families, and children from historically marginalized groups; school-age children and children with disabilities; quality features in FFN settings; associations between quality features and child, family, and provider outcomes; and mixed method, longitudinal, and experimental research designs.