Home-based child care is an important option for families seeking affordable, accessible care that fits their needs. Policymakers and early childhood education professionals should recognize the diversity of home-based child care—paid versus unpaid care, and whether providers have prior relationships with the children for whom they care—and acknowledge its role in the lives of children, families, and providers.
Percentage of all infants and toddlers by primary care arrangement in the past week (2012)
Source: Child Trends analysis of the 2012 National Survey of Early Care and Education Household Public-Use Survey
Outside of parental care, home-based child care is the most commonly used primary care arrangement (i.e., the care type used for the most hours each week) for infants and toddlers in the United States, as of 2012 (the most recent year for which data are available).
37.7 percent of infants and toddlers are cared for exclusively by a parent.
29.5 percent of infants and toddlers attend home-based child care as their primary arrangement.
The National Survey of Early Care and Education Household Public-Use Survey identifies three types of home-based child care providers:
The first two are commonly known as “family, friend, and neighbor care.”
22.5 percent of infants and toddlers use either unpaid or paid family, friend, and neighbor care.
15.4 percent of infants and toddlers receive care from an unpaid provider with whom they have a previous relationship.
7.2 percent of infants and toddlers receive care from a paid provider with whom they have a previous relationship.
The remaining 7.0 percent of infants and toddlers use a paid provider with whom they have no prior relationship.
11.9 percent of infants and toddlers use center-based child care, making it the least commonly used primary care arrangement (compared to home-based child care and parental care overall).
Many of the remaining 20.8 percent of infants and toddlers use care irregularly (9.8 percent) or use two or more types of care in equal amounts (7.15 percent); the parents of 2.2 percent of infants and toddlers did not provide enough information to distinguish their children’s primary care type.
Ensuring that home-based care is safe and that children experience high-quality interactions and experiences are central goals of states’ early care and education quality initiatives. It is important that these initiatives address the diversity of home-based providers and tailor outreach, professional development, and quality improvement strategies that align with providers’ characteristics, including their personal and professional goals. Whether a home-based provider is licensed or regulated is a primary distinction to use for tailoring supports. Licensing requirements vary significantly across states.
Family, friend, and neighbor providers are home-based providers that are typically exempt from being licensed or regulated. However, these providers do need to demonstrate to local licensing agencies that they meet health and safety criteria when receiving child care subsidies. Research findings indicate that the quality of family, friend, and neighbor care offers benefits and flexibility that other care providers might not. For example, many families use and prefer family, friend, and neighbor providers because they have a preexisting relationship with the family and often share the same culture, language, or values. Family, friend, and neighbor providers are also more likely than other providers to offer care overnight or on the weekends, which makes them a better fit for some households’ schedules.
Additionally, research suggests that family, friend, and neighbor providers are interested in learning how to best support child development. Much like other home-based providers, these providers seek to learn about health and safety, child development, and low-cost community resources and activities to support their interactions with young children. More research is needed to identify how best to reach these providers, effectively engage them, and support the care they provide.
Given these unique features and benefits, it is critical that policymakers and administrators support home-based providers in providing high-quality care. Home-based care experts from the Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation and Child Trends have proposed a new model for how home-based care can support the positive development of young children, families, and the providers themselves. This model can help states work with home-based care providers to support the diverse needs of children and families.
Data visualization provided by Alec Friedhoff.
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