What I Wish I Had Packed for the Journey of Becoming a Family Child Care Provider


October 21, 2015

Editor’s Note: When was your last new beginning? When will be your next? Life is full of these twists and turns; the field of early childhood education is not exempt. New can be scary. New can be overwhelming. But new brings with it a world of possibilities. As we at the McCormick Center reflect on new beginnings, we see that they offer new ideas, new opportunities, and new directions to strengthen the important work of early childhood leadership. In the coming weeks, the McCormick Center will publish blogs on the wide variety of new beginnings that exist within the field.


I began my career in early childhood education as a family child care provider more than 13 years ago. I moved from an unrelated field in the corporate sector. Embarking on a new career as a family child care provider was very much like a journey. As I traveled, I grew as a professional by seeking a master’s degree in National Louis University’s early childhood administration program. I also met wonderful mentors who encouraged and supported my desire to grow and learn. Most importantly, I had the pleasure of opening my home and heart to many families whose challenges and triumphs still inspire me today. I remain honored and humbled by their trust.

However, when I decided to change careers and offer care and learning to children in my home, I did so equipped with little more than my good intentions and a desire to provide meaningful service to my community. As I reflect on the journey, I now realize a career change of any kind requires preparation, some packing of resources, and knowledge to ensure success. Good intentions are not enough.

In my current role as a program assessor, I have come to view family child care quality through three lenses: Process quality, structural quality, and the quality of business practices. Process quality relates to the quality of interactions in the care environment. Some indicators of structural quality are teacher education, curriculum, and materials. The quality of business practices relates to the benefits derived from the family child care business and the protections that are in place to ensure stability and sustainability. In my experience, these multiple lenses of quality are interconnected. Warm and nurturing interactions along with rich language exchanges are vital indicators of process quality, yet it is difficult to foster process quality without the foundation provided by the elements of structural quality, and without sound business practices, program viability is compromised. Many a fretful day and worried night might have been spared had I possessed this knowledge at the start of my career as a family child care provider.

It would seem that the most fruitful journeys begin when we have packed sufficiently. I now know that to create and maintain a high quality family child care business one must prepare in advance of the journey as well as while travelling. Securing a license is only the first step of the journey.

Vital next steps for the new family child care provider include:

  1. Become a member of the organizations that support our profession like the National Association for Family Child Care (NAFCC) and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). These organizations have a legacy of advocating for high quality care and education for all children.
  2. Immerse yourself in the vast historical and theoretical knowledge base our profession is built upon. Learn about the theories and practices that define high quality early childhood education. You can do this by pursuing early childhood education course work at your local community college and by attending professional development workshops offered by your local child care resource and referral agency. Continuously build upon the skills and knowledge these resources provide by doing your own independent research and reading. Stay connected to current research by visiting the peer-reviewed online journal, Early Childhood Research and Practice. Our profession is built upon a legacy of research, theory, and practice; seek and use this knowledge to guide your thoughts about the type of care and education you want to provide.
  3. Access the tools used to assess family child care quality and business practices. Utilize these tools as a road map for developing or enhancing your family child care business. First, review these tools and note how practices are described at the low, mid, and high levels of quality. Next, set benchmarks for what you would like to achieve by assessing where you currently stand in relation to the indicators. Finally, evaluate what resources you need to move toward the indicators that describe higher levels of quality.
  • The Family Child Care Environmental Rating Scale-Revised (FCCERS-R) assesses process quality and some aspects of structural quality across 38 items. The items in the scale represent best practices in health, development, and education. The scale is designed to assess child care practices within the unique context of family child care.
  • The Business Administration Scale for Family Child Care (BAS) assesses business and professional practices across 10 items. The items in the scale represent best practices in family child care management.
  1. Acquire the tools to help you put these practices into place. Do not reinvent the wheel! There are a variety of publications and other resources designed specifically for family child care to help guide your ongoing process, structural, and business quality improvements.
  • Tom Copeland, the nation’s leading expert on the business of family child care, has published a wide range of books and conducts trainings on the best practices of running a family child care business. Utilizing these resources will help you align your business with the professional practices described in the BAS.
  • RedLeaf Publishing offers a variety of resources and publications for family child care. Everything from the amazing Calendar-Keeper, a record keeping system for family child care, to numerous helpful books on curriculum and environments.
  • Build your program management and early childhood education library by sourcing the following books: The Ultimate Child Care Marketing GuideSocial and Emotional Tools: SET for LifeDirector’s Toolbox
  1. To set the stage for your success, seek technical assistance from specialists at your local child care resource and referral agency. Technical specialists can help you distill the knowledge you have acquired by providing on the ground assistance in your family child care environment.

What you need to know most is that you are not alone; family child care is a vital delivery model of care and education that exists within a long tradition community care. The more you know at the start, the better equipped you will be to fully serve the children and families in your program.

Bon Voyage!

What do you wish you had packed before embarking on your journey into the profession of early childhood education? Share your insights in the comments section below.

Sonja Crum Knight is an Assessor and Training Specialist for the McCormick Center for Early Childhood Leadership at National Louis University. Prior to joining the Center, Sonja worked as a family child care provider and a marketing executive in the cable television industry. She received her master’s degree in early childhood administration from National Louis University and a post graduate certification in online instruction from Roosevelt University. Sonja is currently pursuing a doctorate in education at Capella University.

8 Responses to “What I Wish I Had Packed for the Journey of Becoming a Family Child Care Provider”

  1. Barbara Sawyer says:

    What a wonderful start to a much needed conversation about family child care. Like Sonja, my journey into the field was much more than I had ever expected and has become my life-long passion. It’s always a pleasure to discover the (mostly) wonderful journey that I’ve enjoyed for so long is continuing today.

    One of the things that pleases me most about providers entering the field is the intentionality of new providers. Understanding that while a love for children and a commitment to provide high quality is vital, it’s only a part of what defines the field of family child care. Training and education specific to the work is critical for long term success of providers, children and the families they serve. Both training to develop skills and education that focuses on theory help providers understand not simply what to do but also to understand why they should do it.

    Family child care can be an isolating profession and having the support of colleagues has long been a predictor of both longevity and quality for family child care professionals. NAEYC and NAFCC are both national organizations that support the family child care field. Additionally, I would encourage providers to seek out local and state support including both formal and informal provider networks, study groups, and associations. This local/state connection can be among the most important resources for both provider professional development and personal relationship building.

    Thank you, Sonja, for the thought provoking and informative conversation starter. I hope that many others will join and share their family child care stories.

  2. All this business advice is great. But the heart of FCC is getting to know the children, and building a curriculum that suits the particular children who are coming to your house. In my new book, Seeing Young Children with New Eyes: What We’ve Learned from Reggio Emilia about Children and Ourselves, the two long, involved examples (The Race for Everyone and Marie’s Early Documentation) take place in a FCC setting in Austin, TX. I’ve been mentoring Marie Catrett and she has been doing exquisite work, energizing for her and rich for the children. Grow in the work! It is only if you do richly satisfying work that FCC makes long-term sense.

  3. Sonja Crum-Knight says:

    Hi Barbara,
    Thank you for the wonderfully affirming response! You make an excellent point about the importance of local networks. Connecting locally really is the best way to prevent the sense of isolation so common to the family child care provider experience. Thanks again!

  4. Sonja Crum-Knight says:

    Hi Sydney,
    Thanks for the post! Your book sounds intriguing and I will definitely add it to my list of must reads. Thanks again.

  5. Nancy Casten says:

    I am surprised that there is no mention of the Child and Adult Care Food Program. This federally funded program reimburses family child care providers that supports healthy food choices from infancy on through age 12. I have worked in this program for over 25 years and I have seen the positive difference in helping both the provider and more importantly, children.

  6. Sonja Crum-Knight says:

    Hi Nancy,
    Thanks for your response! Excellent point! The Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) is a vital resource, in addition to the supports given to ensure access to healthy meals, many of the local administrators serve as a vital resource to the family child care community through the provision of training and other professional development activities. CACFP participation is also a key indicator of sound business practices as explained in the Business Administration Scale for Family Child Care (BAS). CACFP participation is definitely a resource new providers will want to “pack” before the journey. Thanks again.

  7. Linda Hermes says:

    Thank you for your article. It is so important to our field that Family Child Care Professionals be recognized as professionals in the care and education of children. I too started my business 25 years ago with the intention of opening my home to children and families and with few thoughts of this as a business. A business built on relationships with children and families but a business that needs to be run with a plan in order to keep offering our homes to families. In Family Child Care we can struggle with the business part of this and having the BAS as a guide and Tom Copland as a resource for us is a tremendous step for us to be recognized as a profession in the larger community of Early Childhood Professional’s.
    Immersing ourselves in the knowledge of early childhood is also vital and the body of knowledge is ever growing and I agree we, as providers need to be aware of not only theory but also new developments in our field to better serve children and families. I would add that we need to go beyond the knowledge and reflect on what we learn. Develop a philosophy of care and education that reflects what you feel is important to children and their families. I think we need to share our philosophy with families in our program and use this philosophy as guide as we strive for quality. The tools that assess quality can often seem discouraging however if we look at them from the view of our philosophy of care, the tools can be a support to achieving what we want most for our programs.

  8. Good start to what must be a very important topic for parents and professional child care givers. This was an excellent detailed post and it is clear you are speaking from personal experience, thank you for sharing.