For many families, finding child care arrangements that are affordable and available at the times needed can present a great challenge. Many parents rely on child care provided through an informal network of family members, friends, and neighbors (FFN). Parents may choose a family, friend or neighbor over a more formal child care setting because they prefer to entrust the care of their children to people they know.
In 2004, family child care providers banded together and signed a collaboration agreement with SEIU to work to improve the lives of family child care providers and the delivery of quality care in their homes. In 2006, they worked to pass legislation permitting them to be unionized in Washington state. That same year, providers voted to establish a union and chose SEIU 925 to represent them.
Child care providers and their union have long recognized the critical importance of quality early learning environments for children’s development, and the value of on-going training as a method to improve provider’s knowledge and skills. Accordingly, the union strongly advocated for training support and funds have been included for training in each collective bargaining agreement. Exempt providers can use these funds to take classes and workshops specifically designed to help them provide high-quality care and education for children.
While there is broad agreement that improving the quality of child care is important, the question issue arises as to whether these classes and workshops are effective. To answer that question, the Economic Opportunity Institute conducted a survey of license exempt providers, using a retrospective pre-test approach to examine their training experiences. 521 surveys were sent to providers who had taken between 10 and 40 hours of training over a period of one to four years, of which 82 surveys were returned.
The primary focus of the survey is to explore whether the trainings increase providers’ knowledge and skill level regarding early childhood education and caring for children. The survey also explored whether attending classes brought about additional broader outcomes from, such as making positive professional connections with other providers, developing a better understanding of the role and efforts of their union, and increasing satisfaction in caregiving as a by-product of increasing knowledge and skills. Finally, the survey gathered demographic information on providers and the children in their care.
Demographic responses offer a snapshot of the providers and children in their care. The majority of providers are female, speak English, and over the age of 45. About half are married, and about half describe themselves as White. Well over 70% have one to three children in their care with a mean average of 2.1 children. – Many work full-time, with an average of 36 hours per week, with 39% working 31-40 hours per week and about 22% working more than 40 hours per week.
Providers had a few infants and toddlers in care; with the vast majority of children being pre-school and elementary school age. The most frequent number of children in care was one child, with one-third of providers indicating they provide care for only one child; another 45% of providers each care for two or three children. A great majority of the children were related to the provider.
The survey results indicate training had an overall positive impact in every area measured. Exempt providers increased both their knowledge and their skill level by an average of 2 points on a 10 point scale, as measured by the provider’s perception of their own knowledge and skill related to the content of the training sessions. Most providers rated their knowledge and skill between 6 and 8 before attending, and indicated they increased to level 9 or 10 after training. Almost all providers felt as though they had a strong grasp or mastery of the workshop content after the training.
Many exempt providers took advantage of the training opportunity to expand their professional support network. Over 60% said they made connections with others at trainings. Of those making connections, 59% shared ideas, 53% gained skills, 49% asked advice and 43% shared concerns. A smaller group (22%) brought children together to play. Much of the contact is by phone (66%), while 36% of providers met in person, and 28% either texted or e-mailed. Connecting with others is an important added benefit of training. Providing child care, similar to teaching in a K-12 classroom, is an isolated activity. When isolated in care giving and teaching, providers miss out on opportunities to learn from others’ experiences. When providers are able to make connections with each other they often share knowledge, ideas, and tips on caregiving.
Because providers came together to create the union themselves, it is critical that providers continue to feel connected to and fully represented by the union. More than 90% of providers agreed or strongly agreed that that their union – SEIU 925 – plays a significant role in making training opportunities available, and that fewer training opportunities would be available without SEIU. In addition, 97% of providers believe SEIU is important in fighting for improvements to the child care system.
For many providers, training classes also improve satisfaction with providing child care. Eighty-five percent of those surveyed agree or strongly agree that the training provided by SEIU 925 makes providing child care more satisfying. For those that felt training made no difference in their satisfaction, there was insufficient information to determine why they hold this belief.
This research led to a number of recommendations on improving training opportunities for exempt providers, including:
- Incorporating additional training methods, such as play and learn groups, which take advantage of the fact that most providers have few children in care and like interacting. This training method would help providers put what they learn into action, and could also increase interactions among providers.
- Continuing successful courses and changing the design or structure of less successful courses. While some class topics were overwhelmingly popular and helpful for providers, others were not. Continuing to refine the curriculum based on what works will ensure that providers are getting the most they can out of training opportunities.
- Adding intermediate or advanced level workshops. This will enable providers who have taken SEIU classes for several years or who have additional training in child care or child development to continue to benefit from classes provided by SEIU 925.
- Adding training in areas of interest, for instance bullying and conflict. Listening and responding to providers’ needs for training will help ensure training meets those needs and that providers gain knowledge and skills truly relevant to caring for children today.
- Further encouraging interaction among providers during and after classes by increasing group-building or group work that requires interaction. Including explicit opportunities to interact can help providers learn from each other and become more comfortable building relationships with providers they meet outside of class, which can contribute to more gains in skills and knowledge.
By taking the initiative to form a union and collaborate with SEIU 925, exempt child care providers in Washington now have access to training that measurably improves their knowledge and skills, and supports their work caring for children. Without collective bargaining, it is highly unlikely these opportunities would have been available.