Child Care Vouchers and Unregulated Family, Friend, and Neighbor Care

Research Report

Child Care Vouchers and Unregulated Family, Friend, and Neighbor Care

Abstract

Many families receiving publicly-funded child care vouchers choose legally unregulated family, friend, and neighbors to care for their children while they work. This paper highlights the experiences of these providers with vouchers in selected communities in 2004. It presents findings from interviews with subsidy agency staff and administrators and focus groups with unregulated providers. It examines the voucher subsidy policies developed for these caregivers in these sites, and how both agency staff and providers perceive these policies and experience working together. The paper is part of the Urban Institute’s Child Care Providers and the Child Care Voucher System project.

Overview

Introduction

Many parents receiving child care subsidies have family or friends care for their children while they are at work. This type of care is referred to in different ways (family, friend, and neighbor care; kith and kin care; informal care; and so on) and is of particular interest to policymakers. One primary reason for this interest is that since 1988, public funds have been used to pay for care provided by family, friends, and neighbors (also referred to as FFN care) through a state’s voucher subsidy program, currently funded by the Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF, also known as the Child Care and Development Block Grant). In some states—though there is considerable variation—these caregivers represent a large proportion of the providers receiving subsidy payments from the state voucher system. For example, more than half the families receiving subsidies in Illinois in 2001 used family, friend, and neighbor caregivers (Andersen, Ramsburg, and Rothbaum 2003), while a 1999 study found 72 percent of subsidized families in Connecticut were using this form of care (Pine 1999). Although such caregivers can make up a significant proportion of caregivers in the voucher system in some states, research suggests that they can compose a relatively small proportion of providers in the voucher system in others; while precise estimates are not available, it appears that roughly a quarter (or less) of children receiving subsidies nationwide are in family, friend, and neighbor care.

Another reason for the policy interest in this form of care is because these caregivers are generally exempt from state child care licensing regulations, although requirements vary by state. As such, family, friend, and neighbor caregivers are not required by law to meet any specific standards in order to be considered legally operating (though they can be required to meet some basic health and safety standards in order to receive voucher payments for the care they provide). As a consequence, assuring quality and accountability with these types of caregivers is different than for licensed providers, who have to meet a baseline of quality.

A third reason is that the growing amount of research on family, friend, and neighbor care indicates these caregivers differ from other types of providers in their characteristics and their motivations for providing care (see, for example, Brown‐Lyons, Robertson, and Layzer 2001 and Susman‐Stillman 2004). As a result, voucher agencies can face unique issues in designing policies for, and working with, these types of providers, though limited research has been conducted in this area.

This paper focuses on providing insights in this last area—specifically, how subsidies operate for unregulated family, friend, and neighbor care. It focuses on three questions:

  1. What are the characteristics of the unregulated family, friend, and neighbor caregivers participating in our focus groups, and how do they view the care they provide?
  2. What voucher subsidy policies have been developed for these providers in these sites? How do both agency administrators and staff perceive these policies, and how do family, friend, and neighbor caregivers experience them?
  3. What are voucher agencies’ broader experiences with family, friend, and neighbor caregivers?

The findings here complement and replicate findings by other researchers, extending the analysis to new sites and slightly different voucher policy contexts.

As is described in more depth below, the information on which this paper is based is from a larger Urban Institute study focusing on child care providers and the voucher subsidy system. These data were collected from interviews with voucher agency administrators and staff in five counties (Jefferson County [Birmingham], Alabama; Monterey County, California; San Diego County, California; Hudson County [Jersey City], New Jersey; and King County [Seattle], Washington), as well as focus groups in three of these counties (Monterey, San Diego, and Hudson).

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