Improve Family Child Care Ratios and Group Sizes

Recommendation: Ensure that no more than two children under age 2 be cared for by a family child care provider at one time, and that group size not exceed six children (including all children related to the provider).

Aug 25, 2008  |   Rachel Schumacher and Elizabeth Hoffmann  |   Download tab as PDF

“The most important aspect of a high-quality family child care program is its human relationships.” National Association for Family Child Care Accreditation Quality Standards

TABLE OF CONTENTS:

SECTION 1: What does the research say about babies and toddlers and ensuring sufficient numbers of providers in family child care settings?

SECTION 2: How can state child care licensing, subsidy, and quality enhancement policies ensure sufficient numbers of providers for babies and toddlers in family child care?

 

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What does the research say about babies and toddlers and ensuring sufficient numbers of providers in family child care settings?

 

Strong, secure relationships between babies and toddlers and their child care providers are important indicators of a quality care setting and support positive child development.

Child care providers who are attuned to each child’s unique needs and personality can support, nurture, and guide the child’s growth and development. The quality of the interaction between the child and provider has been found to be related to the level of security in attachment that infants have with their family child care provider. Sufficient numbers of providers are needed to ensure both the quality and safety of babies and toddlers in family child care settings.


Sufficient provider-to-child ratios have been connected to sensitive and quality care.

In general, numerous research studies have found links between “structural” features of center-based child care programs that can be regulated, such as provider-to-child ratios and group size, and provider behavior that is more positive and sensitive to the individual children in care. Less research exists specific to family child care, but some studies have found a connection between provider sensitivity and ratio and group size regulations that take into account the age of children. Another study found that family child care homes that were rated as lower quality also tended to have greater proportions of infants and toddlers in care. Additionally, when family child care homes are observed as rating higher on standardized measures of quality, the children in care are more likely to be assessed more positively on cognitive, language, behavior and cooperation measures, such as the Family Day Care Rating Scale (FDCRS).


Babies and toddlers in child care also need to be in safe situations where the provider is able to manage the number of children in care.

The National Life Safety Code, developed by the National Fire Protection Association, recommends that child care group sizes in a home be no larger than six, with no more than two persons “incapable of self preservation” in the event of a need to evacuate. Two nationally recognized leaders in developing child care policy have adopted similar standards: the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Head Start. First, regulations governing the family child care homes allowed to participate in the child care system managed by the DoD require that in mixed-age family child care groups, the number of children under two years of age is limited to two children, with no more than six children total in care, including the provider’s own children under age eight. The DoD’s system of child care, including the provisions to regulate family child care providers, has been recognized as a model of using standards and monitoring to improve quality of care. Second, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Head Start, requires that small family child care homes do not exceed a group size of six children with no more than two children under age 2, in regulations approved in January 2008 on family child care homes providing Head Start and Early Head Start services.

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How can state child care licensing, subsidy, and quality enhancement policies ensure sufficient numbers of providers for babies and toddlers in family child care?

 

Most states require some regulation of non-parental care provided in home settings, and all states should do so.

Of those states that regulate the ratio of providers to children in family child care, 13 states already require no more than two children under age 2 per provider. Maximum group size for one family child care provider is harder to categorize, since many states have a matrix in which group size depends on the ages of all the children in a provider’s care. Thirteen states either cap maximum group size at six or do so if children under age 3 are present. Two states go further to limit group size to five when any children under age 2 are in care (with a maximum of two children under age 2 allowed). 


Licensing rules cannot be effective, however, without supports for providers to meet these requirements.

States should pair licensing mandates with incentives and supportive strategies in their Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS) and child care subsidy systems to ensure family child care providers have the financial resources to afford caring for limited numbers of infants and toddlers in small group sizes, a potential reduction in the number of children in their care, without having to close for financial reasons.

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* The authors would like to thank Suzanne Williamson and the Board of the National Association for Family Child Care for their input and comments on drafts of this research-based rationale.

[1] National Association for Family Child Care, Quality Standards for NAFCC Accreditation, Fourth Edition, 2005, http://www.nafcc.org/documents/QualStd.pdf.

Young Children Develop in an Environment of Relationships, National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, 2004, http://www.developingchild.net/pubs/wp/Young_Children_Environment_Relationships.pdf.

James Elicker, Cheryl Ann Fortner-Wood, and Illene C. Nopp, “The Context of Infant Attachment in Family Child Care,” Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology 20, no. 2 (1999): 319–336.

NICHD Early Child Care Research Network, “Characteristics of Infant Child Care: Factors Contributing to Positive Caregiving,” Early Childhood Research Quarterly 11, no. 3 (1996): 269-306.

K. Allison Clarke-Stewart, Deborah L. Vandell, Margaret Burchinal, Marion O’Brien, and Kathleen McCartney, “Do Regulable Features of Child-Care Homes Affect Children’s Development?” Early Childhood Research Quarterly 17, no. 1 (2002): 52-86.

Margaret Burchinal, Carollee Howes, and Susan Kontos, “Structural Predictors of Child Care Quality In Child Care Homes,” Early Childhood Research Quarterly 17, no. 1 (2002): 87-105.

Clarke-Stewart, Vandell, Burchinal, O’Brien, and McCartney, “Do Regulable Features of Child Care Homes.”

National Fire Protection Association, Life Safety Code, 2006 Edition, http://www.nfpa.org/freecodes/free_access_document.asp?id=10106.

“Enclosure 8: Department of Defense Family Child Care Standards, Operational Standard 8,” in Department of Defense Instruction Number 6060.2, Child Development Programs, 1998, 38, http://www.dtic.mil/whs/directives/corres/pdf/606002p.pdf.

Gail L. Zellman and Anne Johansen, Examining the Implementation and Outcomes of the Military Child Care Act of 1989, RAND National Defense Research Institute, 1998, http://www.rand.org/pubs/monograph_reports/MR665/MR665.ch13.pdf.

The regulations also provide that among those family child care homes allowed to deliver Early Head Start services one provider may care for up to four infants and toddlers, with no more than two children under 18 months; and additional assistance or smaller group size may be necessary when serving special needs children. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, 45CFR Parts 1304 and 1306, Final Rule. Federal Register: January 8, 2008 (Vol. 73, No. 5): 1285-1297.

National Child Care Information and Technical Assistance Center, Definition of Licensed Family Child Care Homes, 2007, http://nccic.acf.hhs.gov/pubs/cclicensingreq/definition-fcc.html.

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Burchinal, Margaret, Carollee Howes, and Susan Kontos, "Structural Predictors of Child Care Quality In Child Care Homes," Early Childhood Research Quarterly 17, no. 1 (2002): 87-105.

Clarke-Stewart, K. Allison, Deborah L. Vandell, Margaret Burchinal, Marion O'Brien, and Kathleen McCartney, "Do Regulable Features of Child-Care Homes Affect Children's Development?" Early Childhood Research Quarterly 17, no. 1 (2002): 52-86.

Elicker, James, Cheryl Ann Fortner-Wood, and Illene C. Nopp, "The Context of Infant Attachment in Family Child Care," Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology 20, no. 2 (1999): 319-336.

National Association for Family Child Care, Quality Standards for NAFCC Accreditation, Fourth Edition, 2005, http://www.nafcc.org/documents/QualStd.pdf.

National Child Care Information and Technical Assistance Center, Definition of Licensed Family Child Care Homes, 2007, http://nccic.acf.hhs.gov/pubs/cclicensingreq/definition-fcc.html.

National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, Young Children Develop in an Environment of Relationships, 2004, http://www.developingchild.net/pubs/wp/Young_Children_Environment_Relationships.pdf.

NICHD Early Child Care Research Network, "Characteristics of Infant Child Care: Factors Contributing to Positive Caregiving," Early Childhood Research Quarterly 11, no. 3 (1996): 269-306.

Zellman, Gail L. and Anne Johansen, Examining the Implementation and Outcomes of the Military Child Care Act of 1989, RAND National Defense Research Institute, 1998, http://www.rand.org/pubs/monograph_reports/MR665/MR665.ch13.pdf.

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What policies can states use to move toward this recommendation?

To move toward this recommendation, states may use multiple policy levers, starting from different points. Potential state policies include:

Licensing

  • Require in state licensing standards that no more than two children under age 2 be cared for by a family child care provider at one time, and that group size not exceed six children (including all children related to the provider).
  • Expand the state licensing definition of an infant to include children through 12 months and the definition of a toddler to include children from 13 months through 30 months.

Subsidy

  • Raise child care subsidy payments for family child care providers caring for low-income infants and toddlers to sustain caring for no more than two children under age 2 in a group of six. 
  • Implement direct contracts with family child care providers, or family child care networks or systems, that are tied to requirements that no more than two children under age 2 be cared for by a family child care provider at one time, and that group size not exceed six children. Provide payment rates to cover the associated costs of maintaining these ratios and group sizes. 

Quality Enhancement

  • Ensure that the standards, design, and incentives of state Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS) specifically address and encourage small group sizes with a limited number of infants and toddlers in family child care, so that the highest level requires family child care groups of no more than six children, with no more than two children under age 2.

 

Related Project Recommendations

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Information on state policies governing licensing of family child care:

 

Information on improving quality of family child care through accreditation:

 

Research and policy information on family child care generally:

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