D Sharon Pruitt

Today City Limits published an investigation of the patchwork system of regulations and uneven oversight for childcare providers in New York State, a story that makes a case for some additional transparency or supervision. The op-ed below has a different slant that’s worth considering: that additional regulations, unless very well thought out, could make life harder for parents and providers

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A new report from the Center for NY City Affairs reviews the impact of New York City’s 2012 EarlyLearn initiative, designed to improve the quality of subsidized child care. Because of funding limitations, only 13 percent of home care providers (1,748 out of 13,367) were eligible to participate in the EarlyLearn program, a program designed to provide additional support and training to homecare providers. The report makes several recommendations including, the pay rate for providers should be raised, more guidance should be provided for home visitors as to how to work with home care providers and that standards be established for who can do the home visiting.

The New York City-focused report written by Kendra Hurley and Janie Shen supports many of the findings that Dr. Corey Shdaimah and I have found conducting focus groups throughout the state with family daycare providers—the most important being that providing rigid regulatory requirements without improving true access to training and increasing funding for care will not improve the quality of care but may limit access for parents, particularly low-income parents, and force many well-meaning, loving homecare providers to give up providing home-based care.

Ongoing training and support is crucial to improving quality care and oversight. In much of the city and throughout the state, compliance has been more focused on punitive regulatory monitoring than support. Without significantly improving the pay and without ensuring the quality and linguistic competence of the people providing training and supports, these rules have the potential to limit the accessibility of childcare services to low-income families by restricting access to only those who meet the city and state licensing requirements. Also, the training opportunities provided to childcare providers in this program need to be extended to all childcare providers both in the city and throughout the state, but they need financial support and time in order to participate.

Consistent with Dr. Shdaimah and my findings, this report illustrates that many well-intentioned regulations simply don’t work. Center-based regulations cannot be easily extended to family providers who are working in their homes. Compliance with regulations such as never letting kids out of your sight can limit a solo provider’s ability to do such simple things as go to the bathroom. Lesson planning for mixed age groups is much more difficult than for similar age groups. Also, solo providers often working 10- to 15-hour days and simply don’t have enough time away from children to work on such planning. Extensive sign-in procedures for providers in their own homes are equally unreasonable.

Our findings further support what Hurley and Shen found about family care providers. Most are women who provide home care because they love children and they want to provide high-quality care. They are working long hours with limited pay, often the same or less than they would make at a minimum-wage job. Many support the ideas inherent in increasing quality care. They want to help the children they watch prepare for school. They simply want support to help them do so and both funding and time to enable them to take advantage of this support.

State funding provides daily reimbursements and does not provide any reimbursement for care that occurs if parents are late or need to travel to work. Providers are not reimbursed for after-hours care that they provide when parents have to work late or when family care providers are concerned for the welfare of the children to whom they provide care if parents arrive under the influence or alcohol or drugs. Some of the most highly skilled providers we spoke with throughout the state suggested that increasing regulations that did not make sense would encourage them to stop providing care in their homes.

The State of New York needs to take these concerns seriously as we consider when and how to improve the quality of care provided by family care providers throughout the state. Let’s make sure we consider the voices of the women who are providing the care to determine what will help them provide higher quality care and let’s make sure we don’t try to separate the idea of quality care from the funding for it.