Several MFNers are part of a group that has been organized to have an impact on school readiness. Through excellent facilitation and a wide-ranging conversation, the group identified the issue of quality of early care and education as a priority. The rationale: if we had better trained early childhood educators, we’d have more children prepared to enter school “fully ready” as determined by the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment (KRA).
From there, we quickly got to workforce development, identifying in about two seconds the need for better pay that would attract more qualified (experienced and educated) personnel to the child care field. Too hard to solve that problem! The details of the two recommendations that emerged from those deliberations – organizing the business community to support early care and education issues, including “income parity” with K-12 teachers; and instituting a portable professional development degree for current providers that would both “count” their experience and provide them with a pathway to a 2- or 4-year degree – are being worked out.
The group then turned to an issue that vexes many: how to help develop the “informal” provider workforce. At the time of kindergarten enrollment, parents are asked to pick one category of “prior care,” i.e. where their children were before they entered kindergarten. One of the categories is “Home/Informal Care.” This is the group of children who, in large numbers, does not enter school fully ready. This group consistently, over many years, has fared the worst on the kindergarten readiness assessments, so is an obvious group to target for improvement.
The kindergarten readiness category “Home” means exactly what you’d think: a stay-at-home parent or another household member who takes care of the child in his/her home. The category “Informal” as the state uses it generally refers to legally unregulated child care providers. Specifically, it breaks down two major categories:
- Relative Care – This is care provided by a relative that occurs in the child’s home or the relative’s home. It is often unpaid, but relatives can be paid without running afoul of the law or regulation. If the relative is paid by the Child Care Subsidy Program, it’s called “informal care” by the State. These providers must undergo comprehensive background checks, as must other adults living in the household. However, relatives providing informal care are not required to take special training, and their premises are not inspected. In the Child Care Subsidy Program, a relative must be: a grandparent, great-grandparent, aunt or uncle, or a sibling who lives in a separate residence.
- Friend or Neighbor Care – This is care provided by someone who is not a relative. If it’s in the child’s home, whether for pay or not for pay, it is legally exempt from regulation. If it’s in the friend‘s or neighbor’s home and either not for pay or less than 20 hours per month, it’s exempt. It becomes illegal care if it’s in the provider’s home, and it’s for pay for more than 20 hours per month.
Ignorant of the law, I used this kind of care 35 years ago. My close friend, with two little boys at home, also watched my daughter from 8 am until 12 noon, Monday through Friday, while I worked. Unbeknownst to either of us, she was providing illegal care – she wasn’t related to my child, and the care provided exceeded 20 hours per month, and I paid her. My husband picked our child up at noon and cared for her the rest of the day.
In the realm of informal care, we only know how many providers, children, and families receive the benefit if the providers are paid by the Child Care Subsidy Program. In Maryland, there are approximately 1,220 children in the care of 428 providers in this category.
We don’t know what is in parents’ minds when they check the “Home/Informal Care” box when they register their children for kindergarten. It could mean any of the above situations, or it could, in fact, mean a regulated family child care setting, or even licensed center-based child care. Parents must pick only one box to check to signify “prior care,” even if they use more than one kind of care – as I did – to get through a full day.
The point of going into all this background will be made in my next blog.