Family child care providers work hard to maintain their businesses. Aside from caring for children, they also must track billing and attendance, maintain the cleanliness of their facilities, market their businesses, find supplies, seek out professional development opportunities and much more. Providers – particularly in home-based settings – often perform these additional tasks outside of the normal hours of operation, sacrificing precious personal and family time.
The results of these multiple roles are long hours and a high degree of burnout. Home-based providers can be isolated from other child care professionals, with few opportunities to connect with their peers. These factors, combined with low pay, have been cited as reasons for child care providers leaving the field. Child Care Aware® of America (CCAoA) found that from 2017 to 2018, the number of family child care providers decreased in 24 states.
Family child care providers serve a critical need across communities. They often are the only available child care option in rural and low-income neighborhoods. CCAoA also found that they were more likely to stay open during the COVID-19 pandemic. Lastly, they are more likely to be open during nonstandard hours. This means that they can provide child care beyond the standard Monday to Friday, 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. schedule.
How can policymakers and child care stakeholders ensure that these providers stay in business? One answer is to develop a shared services framework.
According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, a shared services alliance is “a partnership of child care providers working together to share costs and deliver services in a streamlined and efficient way.” These services could include technology support, supply procurement, training and technical assistance, accounting, human resources and billing. Child care providers can use these services to handle many of the back-end operations of their businesses, allowing them to spend more time providing high-quality child care. CCAoA recently hosted two webinars about staffed family child care networks, which fit into the shared services framework. During the first webinar, leaders from Opportunities Exchange shared the three tiers that staffed family child care networks fall into for pedagogical and business leadership[i].
|Tier 1||Tier 2||Tier 3|
Training or professional development that aligns with licensing and QRIS standards
Training and professional development, along with onsite coaching
Regular professional development with embedded reflective practice
Business supports, including: coaching, tax preparation, marketing
Access to comprehensive supports such as a substitute pool and telemedicine services
According to a study of staffed family child care networks, researchers at the Erikson Institute found that these networks currently help providers in a variety of ways, including:
- Navigating systems such as child care licensing, subsidies and QRIS
- Peer support
- Business and administrative services (developing policy handbooks, assistance with form completion, helping to recruit families, compliance tracking)
However, this study also notes that currently, most staffed family child care networks only offer a ‘light touch’ to participating providers. For example, less than 20% of these networks offered frequent visits to the child care home. And less than 30% of them offered the following business services: helping providers collect parent fees (28%), tax preparation (27%) and supplying substitute caregivers (20%). While most staffed family child care networks are offering tier one services, few are offering services from tiers two and three.
Spotlight on the Evidence
All Our Kin is a nonprofit organization based in Connecticut that has a staffed family child care network with a strong focus on pedagogical leadership. This network provides consultation, mentorship, training and professional development on a wide variety of subjects. It also hosts monthly networking meetings and assists providers in becoming accredited with the National Association for Family Child Care. On the business side, participating providers can receive entrepreneurship training and access to a zero-interest loan fund.
According to an evaluation of All Our Kin, family child care providers associated with this network scored higher on average than providers who were not associated with it on several nationally recognized measures of child care quality.
Shared Services Supporting Programs During COVID-19
Early Learning Ventures (ELV) is a nonprofit organization based in Colorado that focuses more on technological and administrative services through shared services networks. ELV, via their child care management system Alliance CORE, partners their technology resources with the one-on-one support necessary to help providers free themselves from administrative responsibilities. These services are helping to keep child care providers in business. While the entire state of Colorado lost 9.4% of all licensed providers since March 2020, Early Learning Ventures’ Colorado network of providers lost only 2.8% percent of its members.
Other shared services networks are interested in this model and ELV has formed partnerships with over 15 shared services networks across the nation to develop similar local models. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, ELV has also provided a webinar series covering such topics as how to apply for PPP/EIDL loans, the psychological effects of the pandemic on children and staff, licensing updates and more. Within their own network, ELV supported providers by covering the costs of all its services for three months. They also gave masks, thermometers and information about time-sensitive local grant opportunities to providers in the network. These supports may help explain why ELV-associated providers were more likely to stay in business through the pandemic.
There is also evidence to suggest that ELV-associated providers in Colorado scored higher on quality measures. On average, the QRIS score for all non-ELV sites in Colorado is 1.77. For ELV network sites it is 2.57, a difference of 45%. Continued partnerships with providers has been the norm, as ELV has retained the vast majority of its providers in the past few years. ELV has maintained year-over-year retention of 94% each of the past two years (2019 and 2020) and has a 77% net promoter score (indicating that users would recommend ELV to a friend or colleague).
Shared service networks can be beneficial to child care providers, especially those who operate family child care businesses. Evidence has shown that providers who are associated with a shared services program are more likely to stay in business and have higher quality ratings. These networks can quickly deploy trainings in the event of crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic. And shared service networks have the potential to provide even more services and benefits. These additional services could include tax preparation, follow-up trainings, home visits to providers and maintaining a pool of substitute providers. Devoting federal funding to these networks could help thousands of child care providers successfully run their businesses while serving children and families. Shared service networks are an innovative way for child care providers to get the support and professional development they need.
- Learn about available shared service networks, through either your local CCR&R or child care licensing division.
- Balance the pros and cons of joining a locally available shared service network and join if it makes sense.
- If none are available, advocate for a new network with your CCDF lead agency or state lawmakers.
[i] For more information about this webinar, please visit: https://info.childcareaware.org/webinar/ty/staffed-family-child-care-networks-part-1
 Bromer, J. and Porter, T. (2019). Mapping the family child care network landscape: Findings from the National Study of Family Child Care Networks. Executive summary. Herr Research Center, Erikson Institute. Retrieved from: https://www.erikson.edu/research/national-study-of-family-child-care-networks/
 Higgins Wilcher, H., Gebhard, B., and Williamson, S. (May, 2012). Staffed family child care networks: A strategy to enhance quality care for infants and toddlers. ZERO TO THREE. Retrieved from: http://allourkin.org/sites/default/files/Staffed%20Family%20Child%20Care%20Networks.pdf
 Nelson, C., Porter, T., and Reiman, K. (2016). Examining quality in family child care: An evaluation of All Our Kin. All Our Kin. Retrieved from: http://www.allourkin.org/sites/default/files/ExaminingQualityinFCC2016.pdf
 Delap, S. et al. (March, 2021). Measuring the impact of COVID-19 on Colorado’s Early Care and Learning Sector. Early Milestones Colorado. Retrieved from: https://earlymilestones.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/COVID-Wave-1-Report-Web.pdf
 Bipartisan Policy Center. (June 26, 2020). Family child care networks. Retrieved from: https://bipartisanpolicy.org/explainer/family-child-care-networks/