We know that high quality child care is critical to starting children down a path toward achievement. Key academic, social and cognitive skills are formed during the early years– skills that are crucial to success in school and in life.
So we understandably focus a lot on the quality and strengths of staff members in programs such as Head Start and public and private child care and pre-K settings. But did you know that this focus misses about 50% of the children between birth and school age?
In actuality, at least half of all children under the age of six are not in licensed, formal environments. They are in Informal Care, or Family, Friend and Neighbor (FFN) Care arrangements.
What is Informal Care?
It is home-based, offered at either the caregiver’s or child’s home. It is provided by grandparents, other family members, friends or neighbors. It is the dominant form of child care among working families with young children. It is also true that low-income children and children of immigrants are more likely to use informal care arrangements than higher-income children or children of native born parents.
In their 2011 review, “Quality in Family, Friend and Neighbor Child Care Settings”, authors Amy Susman-Stillman and Patti Banghart report that one of the strengths of FFN care is that the adult/child ratios are often lower than those found in licensed, formal settings. They also state that there is generally a strong level of warmth and support for children, and that parents and providers experience positive relationships and communication. These elements contribute to the high level of satisfaction families report about these arrangements.
What characteristics are found among Informal Care providers? These individuals:
- Are less likely to have a high school diploma than licensed providers
- Typically have little training or education in early childhood development and education
- Tend to have education levels similar to that of the parents served
- Often are the same race/ethnicity and speak the same language as the parents
- Are most often grandmothers.
Informal Care providers are typically more isolated and less connected to early childhood training and resources than those working in formal settings. Susman-Stillman and Benghart report that these individuals are very interested in being able to support children’s development. Others have noted, however, that they often face unique challenges to accessing technical and resource support.
Forty-six per cent of children from birth to three years of age are in FFN environments. The role that FFN caregivers play in supporting healthy development and school readiness, particularly among low-income children, is just as critical as the one played by providers in formal settings. Support to these individuals to improve the quality of their caregiving is vital to strengthening early education for children in low-income settings.
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Advocacy is defined as “the act of pleading for, supporting, or recommending.” It’s a broad term that lends itself to a number of uses, but often scares people off. Advocacy is too hard, too time-consuming, or too aggressive; at BTWIC, we’ve heard all of these statements. But the truth is that it’s simply about using your voice to support a cause you believe in; it can look however you want it to look. Below is a list of 7 different ways you can act as an advocate for early education. Hopefully it inspires you to take action today!
1. Register to vote
The process is easier than you might think and doesn’t actually require standing in line at the DMV for hours.You can find information on how to register on mass.gov.
2. Call or write to your local representatives expressing your support for early education
After you’ve registered to vote, exercise your advocacy muscle by contacting your legislators to say that early education is a priority to you and you hope he or she feels the same way. Find out who your local representatives are here.
3. Ask your local representatives or senators to visit an early education center in their district
This is especially effective if you are an early education provider or a center administrator. It’s a great photo opportunity for your elected officials and also gets your early education center in the news!
4. Start an online petition
Change.org is a great platform for creating petitions that can reach a nationwide (or worldwide) audience. It can be for something general (like, Tell Massachusetts Legislators to Invest in Early Education) or as specific as you like.
5. Attend the annual Early Education Advocacy Day at the State House
It’s typically held in early Spring (we’ll share the date as soon as it’s announced for 2015). Last February, early educators and advocates filled the Great Hall. Don’t forget to bring your friends!
6. Educate your friends and family on the issues around early education and care so they can spread the message
One of the easiest and most effective ways to personally advocate for early childhood education is to talk about it with anyone and everyone. Recruit your friends, family, and coworkers by telling them about the issue and why you’re so passionate about it. Then ask them to educate their friends!
7. Share this list on Facebook and Twitter, and email it to your friends and colleagues
Don’t keep all this great information to yourself! Share it online to help build momentum for our youngest learners.
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“All policies should stem from the overarching goal of improving the interactions between teachers and children, which research identifies as critically important to children’s future success in school and in life.”
-Laura Bornfreund, deputy director, New America’s Early Education Initiative
Six months after they released a report that identified serious problems with America’s K-3 educational system, its authors have offered a comprehensive – if utopian – set of solutions. The report, Beyond Subprime Learning: Accelerating Progress in Early Education, focuses on two key proposals: unless we commit to “streamlining today’s public programs and pushing for predictable, sustainable funding — we are never going to be able to accelerate access to quality education, birth through third grade,” states Laura Bornfreund, deputy director of the Early Education Initiative of the New America Foundation, a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit, nonpartisan, public policy institute. She and her colleagues, Clare McCann, Conor Williams, and Lisa Guernsey present suggestions in eight related areas:
- Streamline systemsacross the birth-through-third-grade years. Throughout K-3, the curriculum should include: language development, math, science, social studies, social-emotional development, approaches to learning, and creative expression. The authors point out that as students enter primary school, less attention is paid to domains of learning other than math and language. Instead, they propose a comprehensive approach that goes through third grade and beyond. They also recommend that pre-K teachers be compensated at the same level as their K-12 peers.
- Improve professional development, use video and digital tools, and increase the requirements for early educators, center directors, and home-based child providers. Create two tiers of teaching licenses that reflect current understanding of child development, one from birth or pre-K to 3rdgrade and a second from 3rd or 4thgrade through middle school. The authors emphasize the importance of high-level interactions between teachers and students: training should “put a premium on the quality of interactions between adults and children and the learning that results.”
- Emphasize familiesto ensure that they are stable enough economically to support their children’s education. The authors suggest standardizing eligibility for program subsidies and a Pell Grant-model that would provide a sliding scale for funding early education and care.
This would avoid a funding cut-off point that acts as a disincentive to finding higher-paying work.
- Standardize assessment and coordinate with both the Common Core and Head Start programs so that states can share resources. States already have very similar standards and curricula, the authors note, and it is counterproductive to have 50 different sets.
- Improve accountability systems and ensure they are appropriate for children preK-3 and are based on thoughtfully designed student learning objectives. Include observation of teacher/student interactions.
- Collect and use data responsibly to ensure that students’ educational needs are met, and train teachers to use data effectively. The report recommends expanding multiple-measure formative assessments that are taken while teaching is in process.
- Apply research findings to practice and make the research readily available to the public.
In conclusion, the report’s authors insist that “policymakers must be open to adopting both bold ideas and sensible plans” in order to ensure that all young children have an opportunity to succeed in school and in life.