Credit: Michael Collier/EdSource Today
Children play at a family child care home in Oakland.

Five years ago, during the recession, Maria Morcera lost her house to foreclosure in Atwater, a city in California’s Central Valley. The house wasn’t just where Morcera, her husband and their four children lived. It also was licensed by the state as a family care home, where Morcera offered child care to children ranging in age from infancy to 5 years old.

“I was embarrassed” to lose the home, she said. “I had a lot of stress. It was really hard.”

Morcera was one of thousands of child care providers who were forced out of business during the recession. Family homes were big losers, particularly for owners such as Morcera whose mortgage obligations exceeded their income when the families they served lost their jobs and could not afford child care.

Between 2006 and 2012, the number of child care homes in California dropped from 38,000 to 33,000, according to the California Child Care Resource and Referral Network. The loss of these homes placed additional burdens on parents seeking child care because the state already was suffering from a shortage of child care options, a condition that continues today. Estimates at the time indicated that only one in four working parents had access to early care and education services.

Family homes make up a crucially important piece of the child care system in California, experts say, by providing a broad network of care from rural areas to major cities and including the comforts of a home.

“If we lost family child care it would be devastating to working families,” said Judy Kriege, program director at Bananas, a resource and referral agency in Oakland that connects families with care providers.

Family home child care providers often are less expensive than the larger child care centers because the home providers have the lower overhead costs of working in their home, Kriege said. In addition, family homes often provide a more personal and unique cultural and language experience for young children in ways that larger child care centers aren’t able to deliver.

Family homes also are able to provide more flexible hours than child care centers, which helps parents who don’t work  9-to-5 weekday schedules, Kriege added.

“If we lost family child care it would be devastating to working families,” said Judy Kriege, program director at Bananas, a resource and referral agency in Oakland that connects families with care providers.

The vast majority of licensed family child care home providers accept some form of subsidy from the state, according to a survey by the California referral network. Low-income parents who qualify for what are in effect vouchers can use them to pay for fees in a variety of child care settings.

State reimbursement rates to providers vary by county. A home in Alameda County, for example, receives $206 from the state per full-time child per week for 2- to 5 -year-olds. By contrast, a child care home in rural Lassen County receives $136 a week for the same level of care for a child 2 to 5 years old.

Check out how much a family child care home in your county is reimbursed for each child it serves. 

Rates for non-subsidized full-time care in a family home or child care center in California can range from $1,000 a month to more than $2,000 a month.

The homes serve about 300,000 out of 1 million child care slots licensed by the state. Even before the recession, there were not enough child care providers in the state to meet the needs of the 3 million or so children under the age of 5 in California.

Today, Morcera is back in business, and hundreds of others are starting up as well, in tandem with the state’s recovering economy and housing market. Thanks to financial help from her grown daughters, Morcera was able to buy a smaller home where she runs her new business, Coco’s Day Care, which is not far from her old home. She cares for a dozen children, from infants to 5-year-olds.

In the 2013-14 fiscal year, the statewide referral network helped license 632 new family child care home providers and created more than 5,000 child care slots – a slow climb back to pre-recession levels, but one that is welcomed by child care advocates.

A family child care home such as Morcera’s is the name given to a child care setting in a private home that is licensed by the state. Such homes make up more than half the state-licensed child care facilities and they can serve a maximum of 14 children, depending on the children’s ages and the size of the home. Child care centers, by contrast, serve more children and are housed in public buildings, such as schools, or private facilities.

The family child care homes and the child care centers form a foundation for what students learn in their earliest years, and research shows that children who attend high-quality preschool programs are more likely to succeed in life than those who don’t.

Asiya Jabbaar, director of Reaching Beyond Care, a family childcare home in Oakland, shows off students' art work.

Michael Collier/EdSource

Asiya Jabbaar, director of Reaching Beyond Care, a family child care home in Oakland, shows off students’ artwork.

Asiya Jabbaar has been able not only to tough out the recessionary hits that forced many others out of the child care business but also to build a highly rated program in the process. Each weekday morning, she opens the door to her loft in Oakland’s Fruitvale District, which doubles as a family child care home that she has named Reaching Beyond Care. She and one or two assistants welcome as many as eight energetic children, from infants to 5-year-olds. Her 14-year-old daughter, who lives with her, goes to school while Jabbaar works.

Jabbaar, 38, who earned a master’s degree in Early Childhood Education from Mills College in Oakland, said the general public should think of her and others in her profession as educators rather than caregivers.

She was working with five kids, two of them with special needs who were sleeping during the morning in a room used for napping. The loft had the usual trappings of a family child care home, with a variety of stations where students were playing. The children’s recent paintings of flowers were strung from one side of the loft to the other.

Three girls were finishing an art project and talking up a storm at one of the stations – pressing scraps of colored paper together as part of an exercise designed to stimulate their sensory development. Later, one of the girls grabbed a toy blood-pressure cuff from a bin and wrapped it around Jabbaar’s arm. The kids routinely engage with Jabbaar in “doctor play” to learn how their bodies work.

At lunchtime, Jabbaar beckoned the kids to the dining table using American Sign Language while speaking the words in English. She teaches signing first as a universal language for the kids, and then uses it to introduce words in English.

As they sat down together, Jabbaar asked the children to describe their lunch. “Black beans,” said one. “Strawberries,” said another, and “hummus,” said the third, after a bit of hesitation. One day a week, Jabbaar takes the children to a nearby farmers market to introduce them to healthy eating choices. On other days, the students play at a park in nearby Alameda to learn about the natural environment, or walk to a public library a block from the child care home to listen to stories.

Like family child care home providers in most of California, Jabbaar is being rated under the state’s Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS). With funding from a $75 million Race To The Top Early Learning Challenge Grant, the rating effort aims to increase the number of child care homes that receive high-quality marks and is designed to help parents make decisions on where to send their young children.

In the first round of quality reviews last year, Jabbaar said her coach from the Bananas resource and referral network visited her home and gave her a five-star rating, the highest. Another round of reviews is being conducted and will be completed by June 2016.

Several times a day, Jabbaar jots down notes of her observations of students’ cognitive development in addition to their social and emotional progress, and passes along information to parents. She also uses an assessment tool, known as the Desired Results Developmental Profile, to gauge her 4-year-olds’ readiness for kindergarten.

To make time for such assessments, Jabbaar relies on two assistants to help her work with the children. She’s been looking to hire a third assistant but decided to put that on hold after Oakland raised its minimum wage on March 2 from $9 an hour to $12.50 an hour. Jabbaar’s rate for parents seeking full-time unsubsidized child care is $325 a week.

Juggling work and family issues can impose significant stress. For example, she recently had to close her business for a day to take her daughter, who lives with diabetes, to the UC San Francisco hospital for a checkup.

Despite pressures like these, in Atwater, Morcera is thrilled to be running a family child care home again. Last year, she said, she put on a graduation party for families whose children were moving on from preschool to kindergarten.

“I taught them the ABCs,” she said, “and I love them.”

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