Family, Friend and Neighbor Caregivers Provide Critical Child Care in Immigrant Communities Yet Face Significant Barriers Accessing Resources
WASHINGTON — Child care provided by relatives, friends and neighbors is the most common form of care across the United States. It is particularly prevalent among immigrant families, given formal center-based child care can be expensive and frequently lacks flexible scheduling options and culturally and linguistic appropriate services. Nonetheless, this sector, known as family, friend and neighbor (FFN) care, is often unresourced, unsupported and invisible in child-care policy conversations.
A new policy brief from the Migration Policy Institute’s National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy discusses the importance of FFN care for immigrant communities and the barriers that these providers often face in accessing the resources needed to sustain their activities. The brief, The Invisible Work of Family, Friend and Neighbor Caregivers and Its Importance for Immigrant and Dual Language Learner Families, also highlights promising practices from several states that could be expanded and replicated to effectively support immigrant-serving FFN care providers and the families they work with.
An estimated 60 percent of U.S. children ages 0-5 are in FFN care. Data also suggest that children of low-income, foreign-born and Limited English Proficient parents are more likely to be cared for by an FFN provider than through formal arrangements outside of the home. Many immigrant parents working nontraditional hours rely on FFN care because other child-care solutions are not flexible enough to accommodate their schedules, a reality exacerbated by high rates of immigrant participation in frontline occupations during the COVID-19 pandemic. Moreover, they may prefer to leave their children with community members who share their values, heritage and language.
Though FFN providers provide critical services, they face steep financial burdens. Out of a sense of familial or community duty, many offer their services free of charge or in exchange for goods or services. And as FFN providers are not recognized by most policymakers as engaging in child care, they usually do not receive government support. In addition, many states prohibit FFN care providers who are unauthorized immigrants from accessing subsidies or from operating legally.
To address these barriers, the brief offers a series of recommendations, including suggesting policymakers focus more on reducing legislative and administrative barriers to child-care subsidies and other critical public supports for immigrant and other FFN care providers. Colorado, for example, passed a law eliminating lawful presence as a factor in determinations of eligibility for any state or local public benefit, including child-care subsidies for care providers. Policymakers should also consider supporting small community-based organizations that are working successfully with immigrant care providers. For example, Candelen, an Arizona-based group, works with Limited English Proficient FFN care providers to provide bilingual training to equip them with the skillset needed to excel in their roles. Finally, the anticipated reauthorization of the federal Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program offers an important opportunity to support immigrant FFN caregivers through home visits that can serve them alongside the children in their care to provide beneficial supports and resources.
“FFN caregivers, regardless of whether they see themselves as professional providers, have long played an important role in supporting families, communities and society as a whole, and demand for their services is likely to remain strong,” the brief’s authors, Maki Park and Jazmin Flores Peña, note. “As public investments in early childhood systems expand to meet the needs of families, policymakers must recognize and support the critical role of FFN care and involve them in child policy conversations.”
Read the brief here: www.migrationpolicy.org/research/family-friend-neighbor-care.