Family, friend and neighbor (FFN) caregivers make up the largest component of home-based child care providers in the U.S. Over 11.5 million children under the age of 12 are cared for by an FFN caregiver daily. FFN caregivers are the grandmothers, aunts, abuelitas, and other caregivers who support families and communities with child care. FFN caregivers provide culturally appropriate care to families to meet their needs and often work after hours and weekends to support families in their communities. These providers are known as pillars in their communities, yet they face tremendous barriers to receiving support in the child care sector.
Wendy Maldonado is an FFN provider and advocate in Phoenix, Arizona who is working to change that. Wendy has been a provider for over 3 years and leads a network of other FFN caregivers. Originally from Guatemala, Wendy’s first language is Spanish. She provides care to her local community which often includes children who come from Spanish speaking homes. As a leader and child care advocate, Wendy works toward raising awareness about the needs of other FFN caregivers and how to advocate for FFN caregivers. Wendy has made great progress toward elevating provider voices in her community but it was not without facing some challenges.
Here are some of the barriers FFN caregivers face that Wendy’s works to improve with her advocacy efforts:
- Language inaccessibility: many FFNs come from various other cultures and speak additional languages. Most resources are not available in additional languages. Wendy’s advocacy often focuses on language justice in a predominantly Spanish speaking area. Many Spanish speaking child care providers are excluded from support services due to the language barriers they face. Although this happens most often with FFNs, licensed providers face challenges wiith language discrimination and injustice as well.
- Low wages: When paid, FFN providers earn an average of $7420 a year (OPRE 2020). These low wages often push providers to take on multiple jobs in order to cover their cost of living. Wendy currently works four jobs to support her family. This often takes her away from spending time with her family and requires her to make a lot of sacrifices regularly. “I work hard for my kids to have a better future and I will make change.”
- Policies: Each state has different policies and regulations when it comes to FFN care. While some states support FFN care, there are many others that have restrictions that make it challenging for FFNs to provide services to their communities.
Although Family, friend and neighbor providers face many challenges, Wendy reflects on why FFNs choose to remain FFNs. She shares that many FFNs provide care because of their existing relationships with the children and families they serve: grandmothers, aunties, friends, “community mothers,” and more. These relationships have been proven to support child development and positive brain health. To support FFNs, Wendy works to create spaces where conversations can be held with no judgment. Providers need support where they are and their voices and opinions should be valued. FFNs are working toward the same goal: create and operate a safe, nurturing learning space for children to grow.
One thing that remains certain, FFNs need support in their advocacy work. Wendy calls on other FFN caregiver leaders to be confident in their ability to advocate for others in the field. “Do not doubt what you’re capable of doing. You need to believe you are capable of making change. You need to know you are empowered. I know I am capable of anything, regardless of my situation.” Wendy shares that though her advocacy journey, she has learned how much FFN caregivers’ voices matter.
“For anyone who wants to start advocating, put in all your effort. You will have to make sacrifices but things will work out. I have so many more opportunities because of the work I’ve been able to do.”