“Covid-19 really has devastated the childcare system,” says Mindy Bennett, Deputy Chief of Partnership of the national child care advocacy organization Child Care Aware of America. “I’ve had community leaders tell me that they suspect that about 50 percent of their childcare have closed and will not reopen,” Bennett says.
Home-based child care, also known as family child care, ranges from informal baby-sitting (ie: Aunt Kathy down the block watches the kids) to larger groups of children and professional training. Because they’re operated from homes, these services have less space than child care centers. Usually, that means groups of five to 10 children of varying ages, with siblings kept together despite age gaps.
“Family childcare is a more home-like environment,” Bennett, a former home-based care center operator, says. “It may represent your home beliefs and culture more than a center.”
With fewer children, home-based care centers require less staff than larger day care centers, so children may see the same faces year after year and caregivers have deep knowledge of the children’s needs and learning styles. Parents can also have more direct, personal relationships with the person caring for their children.
“They’re usually very good around family engagement activities and the communication with families,” Bennett says. “And you can keep your child with the same caregiver from the time that they’re an infant to when they no longer need before and after school care.”
In several important respects, home-based care is better suited to endure the pandemic than large daycare centers. While home-based care providers in states like Pennsylvania are struggling from decreased demand, risk of exposure and the state’s social distancing requirements, Bennett noted that under the CARES act, home-based care center owners may qualify for unemployment insurance as small business owners affected by COVID-19. And they generally charge less than day care centers, making them an attractive option for parents worried about losing their jobs.
Moreover, the small group size and clustering of siblings align with COVID-19 safety recommendations. “It’s really helpful to have sibling groups and a family child care is really set up to have sibling groups together so that you’re exposed to fewer people and fewer children,” Bennett says.