Informal child care providers fill critical gaps of care in Detroit, where there are shortages of licensed child care providers, and offer personalized care that parents value. However, informal providers are largely invisible to policymakers and, as a result, lack resources. A new issue brief from Mathematica highlights ways that local nonprofit organizations and funders can support and enhance the quality of informal child care in their communities.
The new brief underscores lessons learned from a community-based collaborative that sought to improve the education and well-being of children by enhancing informal child care, which is defined as unlicensed care provided by family, friends, and neighbors. The collaborative included Mathematica and three community partners—Congress of Communities, Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation, and Living Arts—located in southwest Detroit, where licensed child care options are sparse. Support for the collaborative was provided by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
“Evidence shows that parents are turning to informal child care because of licensed child care shortages and the high cost of formal child care, but also because they view informal care as more culturally competent, affordable, and flexible,” said Megan Hague Angus, a researcher at Mathematica and formative evaluation lead for the collaborative.
As a member of the community-based collaborative, Mathematica provided evidence and technical assistance to measure outcomes important to the collaborative, improve the collaborative’s learning strategy, and identify strategies that could be applied to other communities seeking to support informal child care providers. Some of the key learnings and insights highlighted in the brief include:
- Informal caregivers need resources. Community partner staff expressed surprise and frustration upon realizing how few resources existed in the community for informal providers. Of the resources that did exist, few were tailored to the specific needs of informal providers in southwest Detroit.
- Most informal caregivers had not been trained in child development. Although a few caregivers had experience as trained child care providers with formal training in child development, the majority did not.
- The initiative succeeded in identifying informal providers and reducing barriers to providing them with resources. By summer 2020, the collaborative engaged more than 70 informal caregivers through in-person and virtual events.
- Informal caregivers enhanced their knowledge of child development and changed their practices as a result. Through the initiative, informal caregivers learned and applied new strategies for structuring a child’s daily schedule, communicating with a child, and dealing with a child’s undesirable behavior.
- More informal caregivers saw themselves as teachers. Prior to receiving resources and support from the collaborative, some informal caregivers did not identify themselves as educators and professionals. Community partners in the collaborative validated the lived experiences of informal child care providers, elevated the important role they have in children’s lives, and helped them see themselves as teachers.
- Community partners learned that offering culturally responsive workshops was key to their success. Community partners noted engagement with informal providers was enhanced when they offered workshops in Spanish and English and staffed workshops with presenters who mirrored the cultural identities of informal care providers.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened awareness of how critical quality child care is for parents in order to be able to return safely to work, and has sparked renewed interest in making child care more affordable and accessible. We hope that learnings from this community-based collaborative will help community stakeholders recognize the important role informal providers play in the early childhood ecosystem and ensure that they have equitable access to quality resources and supports to advance outcomes for all children,” said Eileen Storer Smith, program officer at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
Learn more about how the Hope Starts Here initiative is transforming children’s early care and education into a high quality learning experience in Detroit through the enhancement of informal and formal care to position the city as a place where children and families come first by 2027. Read a blog by Mathematica’s staff on five evidence-informed steps that foundations and community partners can take to support informal providers, enhance the quality of care they provide, and positively influence children’s readiness for school and success in life. Through Mathematica’s podcast, On the Evidence, listen to the stories of community partners, caregivers, and other members of a learning collaborative supporting informal providers and the families they serve in southwest Detroit.