Quality in Home-Based Child Care: A Review of Selected Literature

Publication Date: October 22, 2021
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  • Published: 2021

Introduction

Research Questions

  1. How is HBCC defined in the research literature?
  2. What are the features of quality in HBCC? In what ways do quality features in HBCC differ from quality features in other early care and education (ECE) settings?
  3. In what ways do quality features vary by type of HBCC setting?
  4. How do quality features of HBCC support positive provider, child, and family outcomes? What are the mechanisms that link quality to outcomes?
  5. How do provider and neighborhood characteristics influence quality features in HBCC?

Millions of American families rely on home-based child care (HBCC), which is child care offered in a provider’s home or the child’s home. It is the most common form of nonparental child care for infants and toddlers and for children living in poverty.

HBCC encompasses providers who offer regulated family child care (FCC) and those who offer unregulated family, friend, and neighbor (FFN) care. Many HBCC providers face substantial challenges in providing high quality and sustainable care and in accessing resources and supports. Yet the research literature on child care quality focuses primarily on center-based care.

This report summarizes findings from a review of existing literature on the features of quality in HBCC settings and the provider and neighborhood characteristics that may influence these features.

Quality in Home-Based Child Care: A Review of Selected Literature Executive Summary (PDF)

Purpose

This review is one component of the HBCC Supply and Quality project, funded by the Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation in the Administration for Children and Families. This project is summarizing what is known about HBCC supply and quality; developing a research agenda to fill gaps in what we know; and conducting new research to answer important questions. The findings from this review will guide how the project team understands and approaches quality in its work on other project components, including a conceptual framework for HBCC quality, a review of quality measures in HBCC, development of new quality measures, and a research agenda.

Key Findings and Highlights

  • How is HBCC defined in the research literature? The literature revealed wide variation in and a lack of consensus on descriptions and definitions of HBCC. The research broadly defined HBCC as nonparental child care that takes place in the provider’s home or the child’s home. Some research defined HBCC according to its regulatory status—that is, whether providers were licensed, registered, or listed (FCC) or unregulated or unlisted (FFN). Other research focused more narrowly on relative caregivers, most commonly grandparents.
  • What are the features of quality in HBCC? In what ways do quality features in HBCC differ from quality features in other ECE settings? The review identified four broad components of quality in HBCC: (1) home setting and learning environments; (2) provider-child relationships; (3) provider-family relationships and family supports; and (4) conditions for operations and sustainability. Each of these four components has several quality features. Several quality features may be more likely to occur in HBCC settings, or to be implemented differently there than in other ECE settings such as center-based care. For example, some HBCC providers offer care for children of mixed ages and offer care during nontraditional hours like evenings and weekends. Many qualitative studies described continuity of care, close-knit relationships, and logistical supports to families as common in HBCC settings. These studies hypothesized that these features are important aspects of HBCC that may support children’s social and emotional development as well as parents’ well-being.
  • In what ways do quality features vary by type of HBCC setting? Most research concentrated on FCC providers. Few studies examined quality components and related features in FFN settings, although there is more research on care by relatives (mostly grandparents) than on care from friends or neighbors.
  • How do quality features of HBCC support positive provider, child, and family outcomes? What are the mechanisms that link quality to outcomes? There is more evidence in the research literature on quality features that are found across ECE settings than on quality features that may be more likely to occur or to be implemented differently in HBCC settings. These gaps in evidence are critical because they might explain results from prior research that had found lower quality of care in HBCC than in other ECE settings. Across studies, there is more evidence of links between quality features and child outcomes than evidence of links to family or provider outcomes.
  • How do provider and neighborhood characteristics influence quality features in HBCC? Ample evidence detailed how provider characteristics interact with quality components and features in HBCC. Literature described the importance of neighborhood context in parenting and children’s developmental outcomes. Although the literature on neighborhood context did not specifically examine HBCC settings, findings about how it contributes to parenting practices have implications for HBCC caregiving practices.

Methods

The review includes 29 literature reviews and 59 primary research articles, including peer-reviewed articles and grey literature. With a few exceptions, they were published after a 2010 review on HBCC quality (Porter et al. 2010). The review documents the types of evidence and types of HBCC settings described in these publications, along with evidence of the mechanisms that link features of quality to provider, child, and family outcomes.

Recommendations

Several gaps in the literature suggest directions for future research.

  • Future research needs to more explicitly center on Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and other providers, families, and children from historically marginalized groups and should examine how HBCC settings contribute to equitable outcomes for children, including racial and ethnic identity and resilience for children of color and other marginalized groups.
  • Future research is needed on school-age children and children with disabilities in HBCC settings.
  • More research is needed on quality features in FFN settings.
  • Future research is needed to examine how features of quality that may be implemented differently or more likely to occur in HBCC are associated with child, family, and provider outcomes.
  • There is a need for research that (1) uses mixed methods like observation and qualitative interviews, (2) examines provider practices and outcomes over time, and (3) investigates HBCC quality features and how they directly and indirectly shape child and family outcomes using experimental research designs.

Citation

Bromer, Juliet, Toni Porter, Christopher Jones, Marina Ragonese-Barnes, and Jaimie Orland (2021). Quality in Home-Based Child Care: A Review of Selected Literature, OPRE Report # 2021-136, Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Glossary

HBCC:
Home-based child care refers to any nonparental child care in the provider’s own home or the child’s home.
FCC:
Family child care refers to home-based child care that is regulated, formal, and paid.
FFN:
Family, friend, and neighbor care refers to unregulated, informal, or license-exempt home-based child care. It may also include care by relatives, most often grandparents.
ECE:
Early care and education refers to all settings that offer care and education to young children.