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Home-Based Child Care Supply and Quality Project

The Administration for Children and Families has contracted with Mathematica and the Erikson Institute to complete various activities examining home-based child care (HBCC) supply and quality.

  • Juliet Bromer , Co-Principal Investigator
  • Patricia DelGrosso , Project Director
  • Sally Atkins-Burnett , Co-Principal Investigator

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 publically 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.


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.

Key findings:

  • 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.

Read the Executive Summary

Read the Full Research Agenda

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.

Key findings:

  • 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.

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