Michigan School District Partners with Family, Friend and Neighbor Caregivers

May 22, 2012

By Christine Johnson-Staub

Many young children spend significant time in the care of family, friend and neighbor (FFN) caregivers. Low-income working parents can especially rely on FFN caregivers since these parents face real struggles finding affordable child care with hours and locations that work for their schedules. FFN caregivers often offer more flexibility for working parents, and expanding resources to families through this type of care can make a real difference for young children and their families.  As states and local communities seek to provide comprehensive health and early education services to children in vulnerable families, they may consider building partnerships between home visiting programs and family, friend and neighbor child care providers, who often care for the most high needs children. 

One such example is in Kent County, Michigan, where the First Steps Initiative and the Grand Rapids Public Schools partnered to use the Parents as Teachers (PAT) curriculum, designed for use in family child care settings, to bring literacy support to 158 children in FFN care in its first pilot year ending in 2010. Since then, the project has expanded its annual budget from $195,000 to $365,000 in 2012.  Through home visits to the FFN providers and Play and Learn groups that welcome both the families and the FFN caregivers, the initiative provides children with activities that build their literacy skills, and conducts assessments using the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (PPVT) and the Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening (PALS). First Steps assesses FFN providers using the Child/Home Environmental Language and Literacy Observation (CHELLO) tool, surveys and focus groups in order to measure the literacy environment of the care setting and help them design and provide a more literacy rich environment for the children in their care.

In addition to FFN providers within the Grand Rapids school district, the program provides training to FFN providers throughout Kent County.

An evaluation of the First Steps pilot project found that interaction between caregivers and the children they cared for improved among all caregivers, 97 percent of caregivers evaluated had a positive increase in their Literacy Environment score and caregivers increased their age appropriate reading materials. Children enrolled in the program for six months or more gained more than typical in the language development category and 100 percent of parents surveyed reported noticeable changes in their child's skill level since becoming involved in the FFN program. The program increased access to community resources through referrals, field trips and materials distributed to providers.

Home visiting and FFN partnerships hold great opportunity to reach more children with family support services during the critical early years. CLASP's forthcoming toolkit, Home Away from Home, will provide states with an overview of FFN and home visiting partnerships, a tool to help states explore and establish this type of partnership, and case studies of First Steps and other existing home visiting and FFN partnerships. To join CLASP's Child Care and Early Education update list and receive Home Away from Home when it is released, visit CLASP's Child Care and Early Education update page.

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