May 16, 2024

Elucidating and Dismantling the Bias Against Family, Friend, and Neighbor Care

The R&R Network Research Team is currently working on a project funded by First 5 LA to investigate the bias that exists against family, friend, and neighbor (FFN) care in the ECE/child care field. There’s often an assumption that FFN care is lower quality than licensed care and that parents only choose it when it’s the only option available. We see the bias in the low reimbursement rates for license-exempt individuals, and the way FFN care is either excluded in conversations around a mixed delivery system, or included as an afterthought.

Only 25% of children with working parents in California have a licensed child care space available to them, so we know that FFN care is ubiquitous. In conversations around child care supply and deserts, we assume that the other 75% is a gap of unmet need, but this is ignoring this very important type of care, and missing the full picture. According to the Bipartisan Policy Center, 57% of parents who use FFN care would continue to use it even if a free, local licensed space was available to them. This is a national estimate, but is important in showing that FFN care is often the first choice for families.

The assumption that FFN care is lower quality than licensed care isn’t based on robust research; the literature that does exist is scarce and uses measurements such as provider education level and number of structured activities, which are not appropriate indicators for this type of care. There are two interesting studies that have been published in the past few years: one from Tennessee, and one from Georgia. Both studies show that children who were randomly selected to attend the State’s PreK program, while better prepared academically at the start of Kindergarten, performed worse on both academic and behavioral measures after a few years. Some hypotheses for why these results occurred are that the child care arrangement the children who didn’t attend the PreK program (the control group) were in probably included a lot of child-led activities, and interactions with adults they’re close to and who love them. This isn’t to say that PreK or center-based programs are never the right setting for a child, just that it can’t be assumed that it’s best for everyone.

Our project aims to investigate the bias that exists against FFN care in the field by first interviewing influential leaders in the ECE/child care field to assess their perceptions and beliefs about FFN care, and secondly to conduct focus groups with both FFN providers and parents who rely on FFN care to see what is actually happening on the ground, and how parents perceive their child care arrangement. We’re currently in phase two of the project, conducting the focus groups, and working on phase three which includes a parent survey.

Keep your eyes open for the final report coming later this year! For any questions please contact Gemma DiMatteo at