Why Is the Number of Family Child Care Providers Declining — And Why Should You Care?

Of the 11 million young children with working mothers, more than half spend more time in family child care than any other setting. Family child care providers are individuals who care for other people’s children for pay in their own homes, and who are state licensed or regulated.

Family child care providers plays a crucial role in supporting young children’s development and enabling parents to work. Yet their numbers are shrinking rapidly, falling 18% from 2011-2014 and another 21% from 2014-2017. And this decline in turn reduces access and affordability for families who rely on family childcare.

Why is the number of family child care providers declining? In addition to demographic and economic trends, public early childhood policies and funding streams aren’t designed with family child care providers in mind. Family child care providers are often left out of policy and media conversations about education or early childhood, which tend to focus on state-funded pre-K and center-based child care, ignoring the settings where many children — particularly infants and toddlers — spend much of their time. As a result, these policies may create unintended barriers for or fail to support family child care.

That’s why “Creating the Conditions for Family Child Care to Thrive,” a new report from All Our Kin, a national organization that builds and supports high-quality, sustainable family child care programs and the conditions that enable them, is so important. The report outlines a set of principles for policies and early learning systems that create conditions for family child care to thrive, and provides a menu of strategies for how policymakers, advocates, and others can help put those conditions in place.

Why should education leaders care about family child care? Given that many readers of this blog focus primarily on K-12 school reform, it’s a question you might be asking.

First, family child care plays an important role in children’s learning and development. Research shows that children are learning from birth, and that laying the foundation for school success requires starting well before kindergarten. And quality family child care can support children’s development and learning just as well as center-based programs.

Second, family child care is a matter of equity. Because family child care providers tend to be more linguistically and culturally diverse, offer more flexible hours, and charge lower rates than center-based care, they are often the primary child care providers for low-income and racial, cultural, or linguistic minority families and children. Ensuring access to high-quality child care can therefore prevent and narrow school readiness gaps for low-income children.

Third, millions of school-aged youngsters spend time in family child care before or after school. Finally, if you care about school choice, you should care about family child care as an important part of ensuring that families have access to a variety of high-quality early care and education options that meet their needs.

For too long, a focus on center- and school-based early childhood programs has meant that family child care has been ignored. And leaders who care about family child care have often struggled to know how they can best support family child care. All Our Kin’s new report addresses this gap, by raising awareness of the importance of family child care and offering recommendations that state and local leaders can choose from and customize to address barriers to or better support quality family child care in their own communities.

Check out “Creating the Conditions for Family Child Care to Thrive” (or the executive summary here) to learn more about why family child care matters for children’s learning and development, families’ economic well-being, and social justice.