Opinion

Supporting the important work of family child care providers

By Lorelei Vargas |  

July 15, 2016 |  

(Robert Kneschke/Shutterstock)

Babies start learning at birth – and that’s why New York City family child care providers are more than just babysitters. They play a crucial role in shaping the cognitive, social and emotional development of the infants and toddlers they care for in their homes.

A developing body of research has shown that from birth to age 3, a baby’s brain grows to 80 percent of its adult size, making more than 700 neural connections per second. Those neural connections are made from both good and bad experiences. Good experiences, such as being read to and having a nurturing caregiver, can contribute to later academic success and lifelong wellness and learning.

In New York City, family child care providers are well positioned to put the current research to practice. With over 1,500 providers serving close to 10,000 children primarily from birth to age 3, family child care providers play a pivotal role in our early care and education system. This unique group of caretakers offers many advantages: they operate out of their homes and have long-standing relationships with the communities they serve, speaking their languages and understanding the community culture.

In 2012 New York City raised the bar on quality with a bold new initiative – EarlyLearnNYC – that placed family child care providers on the front end of this important work. Through EarlyLearnNYC, family child care providers were encouraged to be part of a network that offered a continuum of services from birth to age 5 and connected the providers to child care centers in their communities.

The network allows family child care providers to offer care in their home to infants and toddlers, and once the children are ready for preschool they can transition to the center-based partner provider. Citywide, family child care providers who are part of this initiative are expected to use an infant and toddler curriculum to strengthen their practice, and are able to participate in professional development opportunities their network offers.

While the vision for this initiative is bold, like most new systems, it is not perfect. A report issued earlier this month by the New School, “Bringing It All Home,” highlights a host of challenging issues we are seeking to address. As the report points out, the city’s family child care providers are not teachers and are not trained to draw up lesson plans to educate the babies and toddlers in their care.

Nonetheless, their role is critical during an important time in a child’s life, and it’s crucial that their networks work with them to help them learn how to optimize the time they have with our youngest children.

There are tremendous opportunities for this cadre of providers to ensure that every child in their care is nurtured, develops the skills he or she needs to succeed and cultivates a strong attachment with the provider, parents and other caregivers in their lives. The acquisition of these skills and relationships are critical to healthy social and emotional development – key to school readiness, academic success and lifelong positive outcomes.

New York City is committed to working with our partners in family child care to evolve toward a model of excellence in family child care settings. These providers play an important role in the future of our city, and we are confident both the providers and networks are prepared to make this system the best it can be for the children and families who depend on it.

Lorelei Vargas is the deputy commissioner for early care and education at the Administration for Children’s Services.

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