About Informal Care:

Informal child care, often referred to as Family, Friend, and Neighbor (FFN) care, is home-based care for young children provided by grandparents, family friends, or relatives that is separate from formalized early education and care programs. FFN care is the most common form of non-parental care for children under the age of six in the United States. Relatives, often grandmothers, are the most common type of caregiver.

Compared with educators in formalized settings, informal caregivers generally offer a lower child-adult ratio and provide greater stability (the average amount of time spent caring for a child is over 12 months). However, FFN caregivers tend to have less training in early childhood education specifically and lower levels of education in general. Children in informal care are more likely to come from low-income families and less likely to engage in structured learning activities geared at developing cognitive and language skills.

Implications for School Readiness

Because the first few years of life are a time of rapid brain development, the practices of informal caregivers have a significant influence on the young children in their care. Studies have generally found the educational quality in informal settings to be lower than in formal settings, ranging from inadequate to minimal, although there is debate as to whether the measurement instruments used are appropriate for informal care settings. Nonetheless, efforts to improve the quality of learning experiences in informal settings have shown to develop the school readiness of young children.

The informal care sector plays an important role in the early education system, which currently lacks the capacity to care for all young children in formalized settings. Because of the close, often familial ties between parents and informal caregivers, it is most useful to view informal care within the context of a family support framework rather than a regulatory one.

Strategies for Growth

Four major strategies have been found to be supportive of informal care, with many models across the country combining more than one strategy:

  • Home visiting for caregivers
  • Linking FFN care with publicly-funded center-based care
  • Play and learn groups
  • Training and distribution of existing resources

Outcomes arising from these approaches vary but include increased knowledge on the part of caregivers, improved caregiver-child interactions, decreased caregiver isolation, and better health and safety indicators.

For more information about our “informal care” research initiative, click here.