Keisha Bailey has been bringing her son to the home of Pam Childress, a home-based child care provider, since he was nine months old. Bailey is a nurse and her shifts start around 5 a.m., so she relies on Childress for after hours and overnight care.
In January, the organization I lead, Home Grown, which supports home-based child care providers, interviewed Bailey.
“Ms. Pam knows [my son] really well,” she explained. “She teaches the kids how to wash their hands and cough into their arms. She teaches them how to get along with each other. And she taps right into his learning abilities and encourages him to learn the things he’ll need for kindergarten.”
Today, May 6, we observe Provider Appreciation Day, a day to acknowledge and celebrate the amazing work child care providers like Childress do every day, intuiting what children need and when, helping little ones develop and grow, and working long, non-traditional hours that few others would be willing to shoulder. This day is also a time to take collective action to address the hardships and systemic barriers that providers face as they support our families.
As Bailey describes, Childress and the millions of other home-based providers like her, work tirelessly to meet the developmental needs of young children, preparing nutritious meals, planning fun physical activities and teaching fundamental skills necessary for reading and learning. Home-based providers also love, cuddle and create safe, stable relationships that allow children to explore and take risks that support learning.
According to the most recent National Survey of Early Care and Education, administered by the Administration for Children and Families in 2019, there are over 5 million caregivers and providers caring for about 6.8 million children ages 0-5 in a home setting. While some of these providers, known as family child care providers, hold child care licenses and operate as small businesses, the vast majority are family members and neighbors who offer care to support members of their community. Think: a child’s aunt or retired grandmother. In the field, these providers are known as family, friend and neighbor (FFN) caregivers. This vast workforce that supports working families is largely unseen in public policy; our systems undervalue—or even ignore—the critical role that FFN caregivers serve in supporting families who work nontraditional hours, live in rural communities and for those who prioritize a known, trusted, culturally congruent caregiver.
The pandemic made clear what was obvious even before: home-based providers, who are the lowest paid workers in the field of early childhood, which is already characterized by extremely low pay, are struggling. According to the Administration for Children and Families, FFN caregivers, when paid, earn on average, only $7,400 per yearfrom their child care work. Family child care providers, net only $29,300 annually.
Each day, more providers permanently close their programs. Child Care Aware of America recently reported that nearly 7,000 family child care providers closed in the first year of the pandemic. We know that providers are deeply committed to families, but many simply can’t manage financially. Data from multiple sources reveals troubling evidence of the hardships providers and caregivers across the country are facing, including:
Failing to recognize the unique contributions of home-based providers results in limited support and low pay. This Provider Appreciation Day, let’s not just see, acknowledge and celebrate these providers, let's take action to support them. Each of us has a role to play in ensuring that child care providers, including home-based providers, are well-respected and economically stable. Here are some ideas to get started:
We are at a critical moment in addressing the needs of families and the home-based child care providers, like Childress, who support them. Failing to act to strengthen provider economic stability and well-being will result in further closures and disrupted care for children and families. Saying thank you is important, but taking action right now is essential.