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Are You In? Family Child Care Providers Experiences in Quality Improvement Initiatives

A California Child Care Research Partnership


Tenemos informacion en español: Informacion para provedores en español


Are You In Project Logo


Most people think of centers when they think of child care/day care for children, but many children are cared for in homes. Our research looks specifically at licensed family child care homes: licensed, regulated small businesses run in the child care provider's own home. Sometimes families choose family child care homes because they are closer to home, cost less, or are more similar in cultural background to the children and families, or just "feel right." However, there is not a lot of research to tell us what happens in family child care homes. The research that has been done suggests that there is a lot of variability. We also know that many of the initiatives that are designed to improve the quality of care that young children receive in child care are therefore based on mostly research from center-based child care.

In California, a large statewide iniative funded by the US Department of Education called the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC) includes family child care homes in a Quality Rating and Improvement System or QRIS where providers get support to make quality improvements and agree to have ratings of their child care made public so that parents can more easily find high quality child care settings for their children. However, providers from family child care homes have not been quick to sign up to participate in this initiative. In addition, a number of other Quality Improvement Systems or QIS exist in California. Therefore, a major goal of the Are You In project is to better understand when and why providers would choose to participate in these optional quality improvement initiatives.

To do so, we will research three groups of family child care providers:

  • Providers who are "In QRIS"
  • Providers who are "In QIS"
  • Providers who are "Not In" QRIS or QIS


We are seeking answers to five main research questions:

  1. What are the similarities and differences among providers who are “in” and “not in” QRIS in working conditions, beliefs, and daily routines?
  2. How do family child care providers’ needs and barriers align with the quality improvement available?
  3. How do knowledge of QRIS and desire to participate/remain the child care workforce change over time as the RTT-ELC is being implemented?
  4. What are the conditions under which FCCP earn higher ratings at baseline and/or make improvements over time?
  5. How do variations in the specific QRIS available in these two regions relate to the FCCPs’ baseline ratings and changes over time?

This research builds from our past research. We conducted a survey of child care providers (http://www.csun.edu/~htonyan/EcologyChildCareSFV.html) and we have already conducted interviews with 30 providers in a pilot study (http://www.csun.edu/~htonyan/SustainableRoutines.htm).

In this new study, with funding from the Office of Planning Research and Evaluation at the Administration for Children and Families (Child Care Research Partnership Grant # 90YE0153-01-00), we will conduct research across four years and two regions of California.

In each project year, we will conduct two main research activities:

  1. A Regional Survey of all licensed family child care homes in selected service areas. These are brief surveys that are mailed to providers (we're also trying an online version) to get a "snapshot" of their needs, working conditions, and the barriers they may face to engaging in quality improvement.
  2. Case Studies of smaller numbers of family child care providers. For the Case Studies,
    • we visit family child care home to see what life is like
    • we ask providers to complete a longer survey including questions about stress levels, beliefs about caring for children, ideas about child care work, and more
    • we ask providers to take photos of life in their family child care home that they can talk about with us
    • we ask providers to tell us about what day to day life is like as a family child care provider

In Year 1, we conduct the Regional Survey and Case Studies in selected areas of Los Angeles County. In Year 2, we will do so in Sacramento County and some neighboring areas. In Years 2 and 3, we will follow-up two years later, respectively, to see how things have changed over time. For the Regional Survey, the follow-up study will be cross-sectional. For the Case Study, our two-year follow-up will be longitudinal: we will visit the same providers again and see how things have changed for those individuals. We hope that they'll have us back!


Specifically, we will be looking at:

  • Working conditions like consistency in income and help (paid or unpaid assistants)
  • How providers' themselves describe engagement in quality improvement: what do they see as making a difference in children's experiences in their care and how does that align with existing programs?
  • Providers' ideas about what care should be like, the cultural models they have for what kinds of care are "right."


Our preliminary findings suggest that family child care providers vary in the sustainability of their daily routines. Some providers have sustainable daily routines (see also work by Thomas Weisner and his colleagues):

  • They create routines that provide predictability and stability for themselves, any helpers they may have, the children, and the children's families.
  • Their routines balance the competing needs and interests of the various stakeholders (i.e., themselves, their own families, children of different ages, children's families, and any helpers they may have).
  • They get a sense of personal meaning from their daily life; it's not just a job for them.
  • They organize daily routines that fit with their resources, including economic, material, human and resources.

However, not all providers are able to do so, either because they are facing many challenges or because they have fewer resources. Some providers have uncertain sustainability: they should be able to continue providing family child care so long as nothing gets worse, but their daily routines are not fully sustainable because either one one aspect of their daily routines is not sustainable or they face a temporary challenge across multiple components of sustainability. Still others have unsustainable daily routines For these providers, the challenges to sustainability are long-standing and multifaceted: something has to get better or they will likely have to close their family child care business.



If you are a family child care provider and would like to participate in our research or learn more about our research, please try one of the following:

Are you a student and looking for research experience?

If you are a student interested in joining the lab and helping to conduct this research, please download and complete an application and return it to me by email at: holli[dot]tonyan[at]csun[dot]edu. Lab members first start by helping with transcription (typing up what was said during interviews) and then can get involved in other aspects of research once they have gained some experience.

Who I am

I am a professor of developmental psychology who studies how different ways of organizing children's lives, particularly in child care settings, impact children's development. My own children attended family child care and I watched them learn and develop so much when they were there. I am interested in documenting the many different ways that family child care providers organize daily activities.
Phone: (818) 677-4970 Email: holli.tonyan@csun.edu Web:http://www.csun.edu/~htonyan