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Federal Rules Changes Offer Opportunities to Better Include Family Child Care in Head Start

Home-based child care providers offer high-quality care through continuous relationships that enable exploration and learning. This care is deeply valued by families and communities. Home-based child care providers often also meet the needs of children and families who are not well-served by the current early learning and care system. This includes families who work long days and nontraditional hours, families who speak languages other than English and prefer culturally relevant learning experiences, and families who value continuous relationships with trusted community providers for their youngest children. For these and many other reasons, we believe that there are important reasons to include family child care, the licensed form of home-based child care, in our Head Start and Early Head Start programs. To do this well and at scale, Head Start rules and policies need to change to recognize, value and support the unique opportunities that including family child care providers offer to the program. Home Grown is excited that the Biden administration is considering changes to the Head Start program and was grateful to share these recommendations on the recent proposed rule changes. We are sharing some of those recommendations and our rationale here. 

Family child care (FCC) offers unique attributes that enable individualized learning in a small home-like setting, while also incorporating mixed age-group curriculum and access to family supportive service connections. Nearly three-quarters of a million children under the age of 13 receive child care in an FCC setting. For many families, FCC is a first choice for quality child care. Family child care is particularly critical for children whose families need full-day, full-year care and for families who work nontraditional hours. Family child care providers also serve high percentages of families from marginalized communities of color (including Black, Latinx, immigrant, and Indigenous), families of children with special needs, families experiencing poverty, as well as families living in rural communities. 

Head Start is the most significant federal funding source for high-quality, comprehensive early childhood services for the most vulnerable group of young children and their families in the United States. There are examples of successful Head Start  partnerships with FCC providers throughout the 50-year history of the program. In the 1990s these partnerships became particularly visible with the development of Early Head Start (EHS) and the need to partner with FCC to ensure access for infants and toddlers to EHS. Currently 3.5% (6,707) of infant and toddler EHS program slots operate in FCC settings, 9.5% (2,574) of migrant or seasonal Head Start slots operate in FCC settings and .2% (1,286) of Head Start slots are administered in FCC settings. We believe that there are opportunities to expand the participation of FCC in Head Start and Early Head Start programs that would improve access to families, increase resources to providers, and benefit the program as a whole. 

In our comments to the administration, we highlight the opportunities to improve current policies and rules to better include FCC in the program. Here are the major recommendations and themes:

  • Including family child care in Head Start starts with recognizing and valuing the unique contributions these providers make to children, families, communities and federal programs.
  • Equitable and adequate resources are necessary to ensure inclusion of FCC in Head Start. Head Start grantees with adequate resources and policy support can operate as comprehensive networks supporting FCC providers. These grantees can gain efficiency and share services across a number of FCC providers and can offer compensation and benefits to the providers in their network. 
  • Family child care providers need to be included in decision-making and should  inform implementation of rules. Provider voices need to be at the table when assessing the impact of these decisions. Technical assistance, training and support for FCC providers in Head Start should  be driven by experts with a background in family child care. 
  • In order to appropriately support FCC providers (and all community-based child care providers), coherence and alignment of federal and state regulations is necessary. Adequate support in the form of written guidance and a knowledgeable point of contact is also needed.Offering extended day and nontraditional hours programming with a single, trusted educator makes family child care a unique operating and business model that families really value. State and federal rules must be aligned and responsive to ensure this model is sustained. 
  • There are opportunities to support grantees in creating partnership models that support and do not discourage FCC participation in Head Start. There is currently a lot of flexibility and little guidance in best practices for grantees that partner with FCC. OHS needs to offer stronger guidance on FCC Partnership models to grantees to ensure that FCC partnership agreements support FCC business models and the uniqueness of the setting, stabilize supply, and ensure timely and sufficient payments to the workforce.

We are excited that the Biden administration is considering rules changes to Head Start and we believe that these new rules can enhance participation of family child care in the program. We know that when family child care is included in federal programs, children and families are well-served and programs can meet their goals. We hope to see the recommendations offered here included in the final rule changes. 

Additional Reading: 

Natalie Renew is the Executive Director of Home Grown, a national initiative committed to improving the quality of and access to home-based child care. She is an early childhood professional with more than 15 years of experience in the nonprofit and social service sector supporting children and families furthest from opportunity.

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