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Relationship-Based Supports for Home-Based Child Care: What to Embrace and What to Avoid

September 29, 2021

This blog explores the hallmarks of effective relationship-based supports for family child care educators. It is written with input from Juliet Bromer, Erikson Institute; Danielle Caldwell, a home-based child care educator in North Carolina; and Colette Masty, a Michigan quality support provider with Family, Friend, and Neighbor Care and license-exempt providers.

Delivering child care in a home is very different from delivering it in a center. Therefore, the nature of the relationship that home-based child care educators build with quality support providers, trainers, and others who are part of the state or community infrastructure must be different as well. But what are the hallmarks of effective relationship-based supports for family child care educators?

Assessing High-Quality Relationship-Based Supports
The Erikson Institute has developed a home-based child care assessment tool that identifies what high-quality relationship-based supports look like. The tool consists of two sets of self-administered surveys– one for agency staff and the other for providers who receive supports. The tool looks at three relationship-based areas key to tailoring support:

  • Knowledge — Knowledge is conceptualized as how much staff know about individual providers in their caseload and how comfortable providers are sharing information about themselves, their children, their child care program, and their family circumstances. Knowledge might include gathering and sharing personal information such as the importance of faith, religion, culture, and values to an educator, if there are health or mental health issues that may interact with the way care is provided in the home, and if a provider holds down other jobs.
  • Attitudes — Attitudes refer to the emotional connections between providers and staff, how providers perceive the attitudes that staff have when they come into their home, and the perspectives that staff have about the educators that they’re visiting. Staff’s level of respect for and sensitivity to educators and openness to something different are explored here. The extent to which staff are able to take other perspectives into account and how they feel when they encounter beliefs, values, or practices that are different than their own are also examined. Provider perceptions of a staff visitor’s non-judgmental stance are  included as well.
  • Practices — Questions about practices examine the extent to which staff and providers have opportunities to solve problems together and engage in reciprocal communication. The focus is on finding common solutions to problems and collaboratively setting goals.

Knowledge is Key to Quality Relationship-Based Supports
All three areas the tool assesses are essential to quality support. But the importance of knowing who the families and providers are should not be underestimated.

The families often:

  • Are from marginalized communities, i.e., are Black, Brown, and undocumented immigrants who feel more comfortable having their children being cared for by people who have that same language and cultural background.
  • Work shifts that require flexible child care hours.
  • Have been traumatized by some of their experiences. Their children may experience impacts of that trauma that affect their ability to explore and learn.

The providers often:

  • Are home-based business owners who strive for the same education and quality level of centers. Often, in that quest, they go beyond what is required.
  • May not have formal training but have knowledge of developmental milestones and practices nevertheless.
  • Serve multi-age groups, requiring constant multitasking. They must apply their knowledge of child development on a regular basis and, frequently, on a moment’s notice, as developmental windows open up.
  • In addition to having to be present and aware to facilitate those learning opportunities, also take care of the administrative, janitorial, and cooking duties.

What Works Against a Relationship-Based Approach?
Many home-based educators don’t feel comfortable because they feel as soon as someone enters their home, that person is looking for something to be wrong. Some systems, such as licensing, may come in with a punitive, deficit approach but the assumption that home-based child care quality is below par is pervasive throughout the field. Support staff need to enter a family child care home assuming there is expertise and knowledge there, even though it may look different than other early care and education settings. They should also recognize that this assumption may be a reflection of their own implicit bias: African American women have long been the ones charged with child care in this country. In the US, there is a history of African American, Latinx, and other women of color providing care for children; typically, they have been underpaid and have worked without respect for their role. This history often leads to implicit bias on the part of support staff, who believe HBCC is lacking in quality and needs to be heavily regulated.

Home-based support should not intrusive. Staff coming into a home should consider the provider’s schedule and how to conduct a visit when the provider has many other things going on at the same time.

Next Steps
If home-based child care business owners were brought to policy and decision-making tables and asked what they need or what would help them to meet standards, we’d learn a lot. In fact, we would probably design very different early care and education systems than the ones that exist and relationship-based supports would be more effective. Given the new federal relief funds, there is no better time to include home-based child care providers in discussions. Let’s also ensure that some of that funding goes to helping home-based staff recognize that center-based child care is not necessarily the optimal child care situation for every child and family and, furthermore, that home-based educators have the expertise to provide quality early care and education.




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