Community Connections: Linking Family Child Care and Pre-kindergarten

Aug 22, 2011

By Christine Johnson-Staub

Approximately seven percent of U.S. born children ages 3-5, and eight percent of their immigrant counterparts, are in family child care, according to unpublished data from the Urban Institute's National Survey of America's Families. Among low-income children ages 3-5 receiving federal child care subsidies, however, approximately 22 percent are in family child care, often because the hours and flexibility of family child care arrangements better meet low-income working families' needs. Even so, pre-kindergarten programs in only eight states incorporate family child care settings into their pre-kindergarten service delivery strategies, either directly as contracted providers or through partnerships to extend services to full-day and reach children who otherwise wouldn't attend pre-kindergarten.

In Cook County (Chicago), Illinois, 56 percent of families with state child care subsidies choose either licensed family child care or license-exempt family, friend and neighbor care, neither of which were reached in the past by the state's growing universal pre-kindergarten program. In response, Illinois Action for Children (IACF) launched Community Connections, a program that forges partnerships between home-based child care providers and half-day pre-kindergarten programs. IACF started Community Connections to make sure children in home-based care were also getting the academic and developmental benefits of high quality pre-kindergarten. The Community Connections approach brings children from home-based settings to pre-kindergarten classrooms four days a week; on the fifth day, pre-kindergarten teachers share resources in the child care providers' homes, and model best practices with the children. A key policy in Illinois allows family child care providers participating in Community Connections to continue receiving child care subsidies for a full day of care, in order to ensure there is no financial disincentive for participation.

Child Trends and the National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP) recently completed the first phase of a program evaluation of Community Connections. Researchers interviewed IAFC coordinators, leadership in participating child care centers, Community Connections educators, participating family child care providers, and parents. In addition, they conducted quality assessments at the family child care settings using the Child Care Assessment Tool for Relatives (CCAT-R).  The CCAT-R is an observation tool designed for use with family members providing child care, focusing primarily on child and adult interaction and language development. According to the evaluation report, the CCAT-R's developers at Bank Street College have determined that portions of the tool are appropriate for use in non-relative family child care settings with small numbers of children. This study used the tool because four of the 15 family child care providers participating in the study cared for at least one child to whom they were related.

According to the evaluation report, family child care providers and teachers in the pre-kindergarten classrooms were equally likely to report they had personally improved their skills through participation in the initiative. An important added benefit of the program, FCC providers reported that participation in Community Connections improved the quality of care they provided for infants and toddlers, even though that age group was not targeted by the program. They indicated that they had more time to care for the infants and toddlers in their programs when the preschool-aged children attended the pre-kindergarten program.

Community Connections appears to be a promising strategy for connecting working families with pre-kindergarten in a way that meets their needs for full day care and improves the quality of care in all settings. Even states that include community-based child care to deliver state pre-kindergarten do not always include family child care providers and, therefore, limit the reach of services for children who need it. A second phase of evaluation, focusing on outcomes related to Community Connections, is underway.

 

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