Westchester Jewish Community Services (WJCS), a non-sectarian, not-for-profit multi-service agency founded in 1943, has a long history of focusing on early childhood as a key component to its program for children and families. Research has proven the crucial importance of the first years of life on the development of children and their life-long learning potential but, unfortunately, the quality of child care offerings provided to middle and low income families has not improved in response to this research. Though children’s development is dependent on the quality of their social, emotional, and cognitive education and experiences, childcare workers remain among the lowest paid workers in the United States.
WJCS launched the Child Care Home Program for Family Child Care (CCHP) to address the scarcity of high-quality early learning programs for children of low-income families and to support our goal that all children start school ready to succeed. CCHP was introduced in 2007 after the Westchester County Child Care Utilization Study reported the lack of quality care for young children, with a special concern regarding home day care programs, also known as family child care. The study noted that only 2% of family day care programs in Westchester County were accredited by the National Association of Family Care (NAFC).
CCHP’s goal is to provide Family Child Care (FCC) providers, who frequently feel isolated and work alone and who have no ongoing support or professional development, with the educational and material support they need to offer young children a strong foundation for school success. CCHP trained staff have three key goals when working with childcare providers and their families:
- To foster an adult/child bond that gives children the support necessary to develop pre-literacy and on-going literacy skills while in providers’ care.
- To increase the quality of early childhood educational experiences for children in Family Child Care settings to ensure they enter school ready to learn; and
- To support parents and caregivers as their child’s first and more important teachers
How it Works
FCC providers join CCHP for a two-year period during which they commit to twice-weekly, hour-long, one-on-one visits from an Early Learning Specialist (ELS) with whom they are paired. The ELS offer one-on-one instruction from a developmentally appropriate early childhood curriculum and guidance about cultivating a strong Parent/Provider/Child Partnership. The ELS uses toys and books to model positive interactions between children and providers and to demonstrate ways of using the materials to spark language-rich interactions and support social and emotional development. Childcare providers are offered encouragement and praise so that the program not only models positive interactions with children but also increases the provider’s sense of competency and confidence.
In 2016, WJCS added another component to the CCHP program: the Family Engagement Specialist (FES), who focuses on boosting early literacy and verbal interaction at home and strengthening the communication and involvement between parents and child and providers. CCHP provides consultation for parents so they can enrich the home environment and more fully engage with their children. Educational backpacks and “Family Playbacks,” focusing on topics like nature and transportation, and containing books, puzzles, activities, and songs that enrich early learning, are available to be borrowed for up to three weeks by the Family Child Care provider. The provider and FES collaborate on parent engagement goals, by using a family bulletin board onsite, issuing a quarterly newsletter, and improving communication with parents. Providers often request the help of the FES in accessing community resources and learning how to handle behavior issues with challenging children in their care. The FES help the providers understand child development so they can adjust their expectations of appropriate behavior and work with children to modify disruptive behavior.
FCC providers share that CCHP has helped them increase their enrollment. When parents learn of the training and programming they have received or are receiving, they are more likely to choose them as their provider.
We quickly learned that the success of CCHP depends on outreach and recruitment via one-on-one discussions with the providers to establish relationships and build trust and confidence. The ELS staff recognize the need to understand and be involved in the community and join community networks and early childhood networks, visit churches, attend community events, and offer free workshops on early childhood. By becoming familiar with the providers, we eventually became recognized as caring and non-judgmental sources of support.
A graduation party is held for providers who have completed two years of CCHP. Their hard work is celebrated and they are eager to stay connected. To maintain our relationships with home care providers, we created the CCHP Alumni Association to continue the professional growth of our graduates with the mutual goal of school readiness and parent engagement. Alumni of our program appreciate the opportunity to connect with other FCC providers who face similar challenges and it helps them reduce feelings of isolation and remain motivated. Workshops and ongoing support cultivate CCHP graduates as leaders and advocates on early childhood issues, and supports developmentally appropriate practice and provider parent partnership in their sites.
Evaluation and Outcomes
The WJCS Director of Research has structured the CCHP evaluation process into multiple components, outlined below.
- Caregivers Interaction Scale – is conducted at the start and end of each program year.
- Family Child Care Environmental Rating Scale – is given at the beginning of the first year of CCHP for new providers and at the end of the year for all providers.
- Parent Surveys – are conducted at the start and end of program year.
- Provider Surveys – are given at the beginning of the first year in CCHP and the end of the second year of the program.
- Mid-Year and Final Interviews with Providers: All providers are interviewed in person at mid-year and at the close of program year by CCHP coordinator.
Year after year, the results of our evaluation reports are overwhelmingly positive and we utilize the feedback they provide to adjust our programming, as evidenced by our increased focus on family engagement and the creation of an alumni association. Outcomes of note include:
- An overall gain of 9.5% in the Caregivers Interaction Scale, indicating that they demonstrated increased sensitivity to the children.
- Increased literacy activities, verbal interaction, and a 25% increase in parent engagement.
- A recognition of 98% of parents, who agreed or strongly agreed, that they noticed that their child care provider has enriched the curriculum since participating in CCHP.
- An overwhelming majority (85%) who report that they explore the books sent home by CCHP with their child.
- A vast increase (71%) of providers who encourage imaginary play.
The challenge to improve the quality of family child care settings is an important one because we know that high-quality care can help level the playing field for children who are at risk for entering school unprepared to succeed. Research shows that low-income children benefit and experience significant cognitive, linguistic, and social-emotional gains from being enrolled in high-caliber programs (Li et al., 2012; McCartney et al., 2015). Children who receive higher quality care are also less likely to develop behavioral issues by adolescence (Votruba-Drzal et al. 2010).
WJCS is proud of our accomplishments to date. Our CCHP staff is led by an outstanding Program Director, who has been innovating in the field of early childhood for over 20 years. Her leadership and the exceptional CCHP staff offer providers the support, resources, and knowledge needed to support healthy early childhood development and build the school readiness skills for the children in their care. The active participation of day care providers and their dedication to improving their skills is inspiring, and their comments about the benefits of CCHP are rewarding. The effects of CCHP are exponential. The child care providers will carry what they have learned to the next group of children they serve in years to come.
While this article highlights the work of CCHP, it is just one of many WJCS’ innovative programs. Our professionals provide mental health, trauma, disability, youth, and geriatric services. We strive to foster an environment where our staff weave their expertise across domains to address the needs of those we serve.