A strong public private partnership and focus on racial and health equity in Minnesota has allowed for expansion of an innovative approach to supporting family, friend and neighbor (FFN) providers across the state.
Home-based programs, such as FFN provide an important option to families in a mixed delivery child care system. Many families prefer FFN for a wide variety of reasons, including non-traditional care hours, such as evening or weekend care, shared culture and language of the children and families they serve or simply because of the small home setting. Since 2018, the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota Foundation (Blue Cross Foundation) has provided philanthropic funding to establish and maintain FFN Networks in underserved communities. These FFN Networks are housed in established organizations (such as immigrant resettlement agencies, community collaboration programs, and charter schools) that have historic and cultural roots in the communities they serve and where they are able to sustain trusting relationships with providers and families. Historically, network members have provided an assortment of resources and supports:
• Culturally appropriate and easy-to-access trainings on various topics around early childhood;
• Lending library kits for families at home;
• Safety equipment such as cupboard latches and outlet protectors;
• A trusted website where FFN providers can access early childhood and COVID-19 information, resources, and tools;
• Support to FFN providers seeking to start family child care businesses through training assistance, business planning, connection to financial resources, paperwork completion, and early childhood best practices consultation;
The networks have also worked to build relationships to support understanding and support for FFNs with local institutions, such as superintendents, local school boards, city mayors and councils.
In alignment with the work the Blue Cross Foundation has done to support FFN networks in Minnesota, the state government has a long history of support for FFN providers as well. In 2004, the Department of Human Services (DHS) made reaching FFN caregivers a priority, beginning with support for a set of research studies. In 2008, Minnesota was the first state in the nation to provide state funding for an FFN grant program, and in 2012, a community-informed strategic plan to guide the state’s support for FFN providers was developed and began to be implemented. After 2012, state legislative and funding priorities shifted and support for FFN providers dramatically decreased. In the past several years, Minnesota’s early childhood advocates and stakeholders, including the Blue Cross Foundation, have been increasingly vocal about the need for the state to re-prioritize FFN providers, as FFN providers are a frequent choice of care for parents with infants and toddlers, parents in diverse cultural and ethnic communities, and parents working non-standard hour jobs. Additionally, during the COVID-19 pandemic, many more families began using FFN providers because their typical care provider closed, or they did not feel safe having their child cared for in a congregate setting.
As a result, when Minnesota received its 2020 CARES Act appropriation, $1 million was directed to provide support for FFN providers. The financial support was granted out to agencies to provide direct outreach, training, and materials to FFN providers, prioritizing organizations serving the Somali, Latinx, Hmong, African American, American Indian and immigrant communities. Concurrently, Minnesota’s Preschool Development Grant Birth to Five provided funding support for important FFN initiatives including an FFN Learning Community and early childhood mental health coaching for FFN providers.
Finally, DHS was able to use information gathered from the FFN Learning Community to direct an additional $4.5M from Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act and American Rescue Plan Act funds to further development of FFN Networks. In addition to expanding networks and support, this funding will allow for a new state project manager who will be dedicated to the orchestration of these supports. The state will also be conducting an FFN provider marketing and outreach campaign and a statewide FFN evaluation and landscape analysis.
This crucial investment in FFN networks will help to ensure that families are placing their children in healthy, safe and developmentally appropriate spaces that allows DHS to honor parent choice in choosing child care for their infants and toddlers.