Home-based child care providers may soon be getting some much-needed financial assistance. The Thriving Providers Project (TPP), officially launching in July, will work with regional partners across the country to provide direct cash payments to Family, Friend and Neighbor (FFN) caregivers and newly licensed Family Child Care (FCC) home providers. TPP is a national demonstration project led by Home Grown, a funders collaborative “committed to improving access to and the quality of home-based child care.”
This initiative will help Home Grown demonstrate the impact of addressing material hardship in home-based child care providers and how that impacts the economic stability of the provider themselves. From there, says Alexandra Patterson, Home Grown’s director of policy and strategy, the program will examine “the ancillary impacts on both the caregiving arrangement for families—so availability and consistency of care—and then on the provider and child relationship itself. And once we’re able to do that, we hope to generate a set of policy recommendations that can inform the payment systems that impact home-based providers.”
Home Grown stepped in to fill a gap with about a million dollars in partnership with roughly 13 states to mobilize emergency funds to these caregivers. As a result, many local communities were able to identify matching dollars to the tune of almost 3 million.
According to Joyceline Felix, a Family, Friend and Neighbor project consultant at Home Grown, this is an initiative that’s sorely needed. Felix started as an FFN provider herself although she didn’t know that’s what she was, at the time. “My cousin had four little ones. I had two little ones, so we were helping each other. She was helping me so I could go to work and I was helping her for whatever needs she had.” She was simply swapping child care, in her mind — and doing so with no compensation.
This is hardly unusual: Many home-based childcare providers, especially FFNs, work for little to no pay. Says Felix: “They’re getting paid maybe $10, $15 per day, per kid, sometimes $20, $25 at most per day. Who can make a living on that amount of money?” The Thriving Providers Project cites these numbers: “Most FFN caregivers, when paid, earn $7,420 annually for offering care and 40% of caregivers rely on at least one other job besides child care to make ends meet. FCC providers, who on average work 56 hours a week, earn $29,377 a year and 30% rely on at least one other job.”
According to the Thriving Providers Project, Home-Based Child Cares (HBCC)—who are primarily FFN caregivers—are the largest population of caregivers and serve the largest number of children ages 0-5 (about 5.8 million children, according to national data from 2019). Additionally, HBCC is largely preferred by Black and Latine families, as well as rural families, families with nontraditional or unpredictable work schedules, and those with low incomes.
These centers and providers exist out of necessity, sure, but they’re also advantageous to both parents and children in myriad ways. Patterson explains: “Some of the unique assets include their ability to really deliver the learning experience in a naturalistic environment, something that feels like home. Many children have the opportunity to stay with their provider from infancy until they go to kindergarten. So there’s a continuity of caregiving along with many home-based providers who are also able to provide cultural and linguistic responsiveness in ways that perhaps aren’t as successful when families enroll in more center-based and school-based preschool settings. Sometimes families select these caregivers because there’s a cultural or linguistic connection.”
TPP = Thriving Providers Project
FFN = Family, Friends and Neighbors Child Care
HBCC = Home-Based Child Care
FCC = Family Child Care
And like many public school teachers who purchase their own supplies, Felix says, “Caregivers feed children with their own means, and they care for them. And sometimes they play with improvised toys or toys they make themselves, or they go into the dollar store to provide something. And they still have the dedication and the love and the time to nurture a little one that way with whatever they have. I think that’s the most meaningful part.”
Felix spoke of one FNN provider she interviewed in Colorado: “She lost her husband, then was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had a double mastectomy, and she was caring for children throughout her whole journey. She paused her care for just a month, so her body was able to physically repair herself, and exactly 30 days later, she’s back to caring for children because she didn’t have any other option. I could hear in the whole interview her voice optimistic and hopeful and cheerful. It’s people like her who are like superheroes that are invisible, that are working so other families are able to go and be productive members of society, but nobody hears about them. And I asked her, how is it possible that you do it? And she says, the children are my motor, they are my energy. She was not doing it only because she had to — it was because it was part of her.”
It’s this love, this connection, that deeply benefits children throughout their HBCC experience. Felix adds: “Kudos to these providers who come with a wealth of knowledge and experiences, who bring values and their own culture and their own food and their own stories. They do it because they know the value in helping raise the child, even when they don’t have a lot of resources themselves. They do it because they care.”
Home-based child care providers serve as community anchors as well as child care providers, says Patterson. “Beyond their day-to-day caregiving responsibilities, they’re really getting into a more wraparound responsive set of services for families: connecting them to other community resources, helping them register children for kindergarten, finding a primary health provider or accessing food programs or food banks.”
Inspiration for the Thriving Providers Project emerged from two separate Home Grown projects. The first, as Patterson tells us, “was a landscape assessment around the financial needs of home-based providers and what we can do to build relationships between banking and lending institutions to meet those needs. The assessment uncovered the number one thing they actually need most: access to capital.”
The other significant project…was the Home Grown emergency fund work during the pandemic. For example, during the pandemic, public relief was available, but barriers existed for home-based providers, especially the Family, Friend and Neighbor caregivers, to actually access those public dollars. “Home Grown stepped in to fill a gap with about a million dollars in partnership with roughly 13 states to mobilize emergency funds to these caregivers. As a result, many local communities were able to identify matching dollars to the tune of almost 3 million.”
That work uncovered not just the material hardship for these providers, but also some of the nuanced ways that public funding is out of their reach—whether because of the difficulty in completing forms due to language barriers or the need for a social security number or licensing requirements. “There are lots of ways that home-based providers get shut out of access to public funds,” Patterson says.
That’s why a core priority for Home Grown was that the Thriving Providers Project have a low barrier to entry to make it easier for program administrators as well as for those applying: “We don’t want to spend tons of money on having people complete forms and having somebody check the form and somebody else to double-check the form and somebody to triple-check the form. We really want to over-resource the actual support for the providers themselves. So we prioritized both a simplified enrollment process, a simplified set of eligibility criteria that really targets those most in need, and then created a low threshold for entry,” Patterson explains.
Another important detail: TPP and its partners will provide direct cash transfers that are both unconditional and unrestricted. Patterson says: “We trust the recipients to make decisions that best support and stabilize their families as well as the children they’re serving. Another thing we saw during the pandemic emergency fund was that providers used those funds on expenses like utilities, food and housing. That kind of finding is not unique; when you look at the body of evidence from guaranteed income projects, you see very similar findings. When given no conditions and the opportunity to really make their own decisions, families and recipients really do make choices that will be in the best interest of their own families.”
There are currently two regional partners in place — Impact Charitable in Colorado and Raphah Institute in Tennessee — with more planned in the coming year. For more information, visit Home Grown and the Thriving Providers Project.
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Alice Bradley is a Brooklyn-based writer and editor. She has written for numerous magazines and sites, including Salon, Health, Parents and Real Simple, and was a contributing editor to Creative Nonfiction. She co-wrote the humor book “Let’s Panic About Babies!”