Supporting Child Care by Families, Friends, and Neighbors

Woman and child at home

Great Expectations, the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust’s program to ensure children enter kindergarten ready to learn, is committed to ensuring all of Forsyth’s families have access to high-quality child care. Through recent listening projects with the community, we are learning this means ensuring that all kinds of childcare providers—unlicensed, as well as licensed providers—offer a high level of care that prepares children to enter school set for success.

In 2017, Great Expectations began researching what parents and caregivers want and need when it comes to informal childcare in Forsyth County, and what other communities across the country are doing to support caregivers.

We started with a survey

We began our process of “listening and learning” by surveying more than 1,200 parents and 300 caregivers.

We learned that where parents turn for child care varies widely in Forsyth County, from full-time, licensed providers to a robust network of “family, friend, and neighbor” care. In fact, almost two-thirds of families in Forsyth County who need child care rely on families, friends, and neighbors to provide some or all of the child care their family needs, and many find this a satisfactory way to meet their needs. Relying on “informal care” crosses demographics, as families with lower incomes and higher incomes often do this.

Many of the parents surveyed said they were happy with the care their child received. Informal care with a relative or a trusted adult is the preferred choice for child care for many families. The reasons for choosing this type of care vary, but it’s clear that informal care can be the most comfortable, convenient, and affordable option for many families, and it is often based in trust.

Parents have valid concerns

While informal care is a preferred option for many families, a significant proportion—almost a quarter overall, and a third among very low-income families—said that they were unhappy with their care. These parents are also most likely to be limited by cost and access in making a change. More than three quarters of families unhappy with their care have not made other arrangements because other arrangements are too expensive, and nearly a third are not able to find another care provider who they trust. Challenging work schedules and lack of access to transportation also make unlicensed care a necessity.

Parents value quality child care

The Trust survey showed that when it comes to child care, parents value safety, convenience, and cost but they also value quality. Help preparing their children to do well in school is a high priority for parents throughout Forsyth County.

As Tracey Greene-Washington, director of special initiatives of the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust, puts it, “The reality is almost every child is in some kind of informal care—be it friend, family, neighbor, or nanny. We believe informal care should be seen as an important and valued part of the child care ecosystem, as it already is by parents.”

To learn more, we will be conducting a series of follow up interviews this fall with parents and caregivers. We’ll ask: What does quality childcare look like in informal settings and how do parents know it when they see it?

We believe in high-quality care, regardless of the setting

Through the Trust’s strategic grantmaking process, we’re now supporting efforts to turn what we are learning from parents and the community into action and invest in solutions that work for their lives. We are working with the community to develop pilot models that support informal caregivers to provide high-quality care that promotes healthy development and helps prepare children for kindergarten. We know there is not enough licensed care in Forsyth County to meet the need, so supporting informal caregivers is critical to the future of our children.

National research shows that a strategy to improve child care should include supporting informal, powerful networks of caregivers. In the summer of 2018, the Trust began planning how to do this, learning from our survey and best practices garnered from national efforts to improve family, friend, and neighbor care. We’re working with local organizations, parents, and caregivers to design and implement several pilot projects and then test their effectiveness.

“It’s been incredibly powerful to work with our colleagues in the community to bring attention to informal care, as it’s a critical part of the child care eco-system. Designing a solution that builds on what’s happening across, tailored to what Forsyth County community needs, is a critical next step and we look forward to the work ahead,” says Katura Jackson, E.D., Child Care Resource Center, and FFN pilot design team member.