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New Research: Strengthening Quality for Infants and Toddlers

Strengthening the quality of family child care and center-based care for infants and toddlers.   Enhancing the Quality of Infant and Toddler Care in New York City: Variation Across EarlyLearn Settings sheds light on the too often overlooked importance of early care and education for infants and toddlers—and the value of both family child care (FCC) and center-based programs to New York City’s diverse community of children and families.  

Authors Jeanne L. Reid, Samantha A. Melvin, Sharon Lynn Kagan, and Jeanne Brooks-Gunn at the National Center for Children and Families at Teachers College, Columbia University note that quality care and learning for infants and toddlers is critically important for effective development, yet access to programs is limited and providers, irrespective of whether they teach in homes or centers, are under-resourced and underpaid for the value of their services. The authors identify the challenges of promoting quality across family child care and center-based programs that serve diverse families, point to the need to recognize the unique assets of FCCs, and make recommendations on how to support programs for infants and toddlers in both settings, which are in short supply at a time when programs are closing due to COVID-19.

As New York City seeks to align quality across different program settings, consideration should be given to the distinctive assets of programs and the cultural communities they serve. This shifts the lens through which quality is viewed—and how widely-used FCCs are valued, as they develop trusting relationships in home-like settings that many families prefer for their babies and toddlers. FCCs are also more likely to accommodate the needs of families who have irregular or non-standard work hours.

“This study shows us the relative strengths of care in family child care and center-based programs,” says lead author Jeanne Reid. “It is critical to make sure the FCCs and centers who care for our babies and toddlers are both high-quality and sustainable. That means higher compensation, customized and accessible professional development, and managerial support that responds to the unique needs of each setting.”

The authors make six evidenced-based policy recommendations to strengthen and improve infant and toddler care across different settings:  

1. Increase compensation for FCC leaders and center teachers who care for infants and toddlers, and financially support and reward those who pursue additional training. Both FCC and center educators work for poverty-level wages—an average of about $30,000/year with little or no benefits—making it hard for them to stay in the profession and pursue qualifications.

2. Increase administrative support for FCCs and increase funding for non-standard work hours in both settings. Increasing funding for non-standard work hours is critical in both settings, as more low-income families work in jobs with non-standard or irregular hours. FCC leaders also need more managerial support as they perform two complex jobs at once: putting in long hours to care for infants and toddlers while struggling to run a business and meet program requirements.

3. Innovate to improve family engagement in both settings and increase support for service referrals in FCCs. Family engagement—an important component of program quality—is a challenge for both centers and FCCs. New models of family engagement are worth exploring. FCCs also need help referring children and families to the comprehensive services they need.

4. Foster equitable access to professional development. Workshops and coaching are valuable for staff in both settings, but FCC leaders face greater obstacles to participation. Offering more frequent professional learning opportunities, paying FCC leaders for their time, and removing practical obstacles will increase their participation.

5. Preserve and encourage the culturally rich options that parents seek. The City should use models and metrics of quality that recognize the distinctive strengths, including culturally-rich options, in both FCCs and centers for infants and toddlers. 

6. Promote and align quality across settings with differentiated strategies that pursue the common goal of nurturing young children’s learning and development. How the city engages FCCs in 3K for All will have important consequences for the quality and supply of programs for infants and toddlers in NYC. Policies that raise expectations for program quality should be accompanied by rising resources.

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New Research: Strengthening Quality for Infants and Toddlers