Family, friend and neighbor (FFN) care is one of the most used forms of child care for young children and reliance on this care increased during the pandemic. Parents choose this care because they trust caregivers to provide love and care to their children and this may be the arrangement that meets their families’ needs best, especially if they work nontraditional and unpredictable hours. Despite this reliance and increasing acknowledgment of the challenges facing caregivers, FFN providers are struggling financially. Caregivers’ lack of financial stability, in turn, undermines the availability of stable care for young children, thus putting our economic recovery in peril. Greater attention to, inclusion of, and support for FFN caregivers is an urgent priority.
A national sample of family, friend and neighbor (FFN) child care providers, collected by the University of Oregon via their RAPID-Child Care survey, reveal a grim reality facing FFN caregivers in this country:
- 34% of FFN caregivers are experiencing hunger
- FFN caregivers are struggling to afford basic necessities:
- 12% are unable to pay the full amount of gas or electric bills
- 19% are unable to afford food
- 7% are unable to afford mortgage or rent payments.
This data, collected in summer 2021, affirms data Home Grown collected in summer 2020 from FFN caregivers in our Emergency Fund program. FFN caregivers reported using emergency funds to secure basic needs: food, utilities, and housing. The ongoing nature of the pandemic and the historic disregard for FFN caregivers means that improvements in this situation may still be far off.
This economic precariousness is harmful to the caregivers and the children they are looking after. Very basically, when a FFN caregiver is food insecure, struggling to keep the lights on or at risk of losing housing, that destabilizes the care environment (the home) where the young child is learning and growing. Equally troubling, the RAPID surveys show that higher numbers of material hardships experienced then result in higher emotional stress among caregivers. Data also show that providers and caregivers prioritize and do everything possible to meet the needs of the children they serve. Intuitively, we know that it is not sustainable or fair to expect caregivers who are hungry and stressed to carry the childcare burdens of our nation’s low-income families and our economy.
There are several key reasons why FFN caregivers are at such high financial risk. Firstly, FFN caregivers are most likely to be serving low-income and otherwise marginalized families in diverse communities across this country from deep rural areas to immigrant communities. Vast numbers of FFN caregivers are unpaid. When they are paid, FFN caregivers earn about $8,000 per year for full-time care of one or more children. Those that are paid also struggle to gain predictable, stable funding because the families they serve may also be financially unstable and often unable to pay fully or on time.
FFNs and the children and families they support are largely excluded from systems of support. Most FFN caregivers cannot access state or federal subsidies, and the few who do receive pennies on the dollar of what is given to other providers, who are also grossly underfunded. In most places, FFNs cannot participate in the subsidized food program or access quality improvement incentives or emergency aid grants. Only one state’s quality rating and improvement system (QRIS) meaningfully includes FFNs in their program.
While there is a lot to do to invest in and stabilize the economic well-being of FFN providers, we offer these initial recommendations:
- Include FFN care in ECE systems of support: create differentiated and appropriate systems to support and strengthen health and safety, quality, financing and access to comprehensive services for FFN caregivers and the children and families that they serve.
- Ensure FFN caregivers can access critical supports for children such as the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) to ensure caregiver hunger does not exacerbate child hunger.
- Prioritize the economic well-being of FFN caregivers as a foundation for meeting parents’ needs and engaging providers in quality supports, including:
- Provide regular, stable income to FFN caregivers via subsidy programs
- Provide benefits counseling to FFN caregivers that assures that newly realized income does not jeopardize existing benefits
- Provide benefits counseling to FFN caregivers and they families they serve to maximize available income and resources such as the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit.
- Support asset building activities once income is stabilized (debt reduction, saving, homeownership, retirement preparation)
- Invest in the creation of comprehensive networks of support on behalf of FFN caregivers that are able to engage caregivers in quality supports that are differentiated and appropriate to their setting.