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Families, friends, and neighbors: Critical child care resources

The evidence that high-quality, center-based child care is good for children has been reported often; so has the dismal finding that quality care remains out of reach for many children from impoverished families. Now, the Annie E. Casey Foundation is urging a closer look at the kind of child care some 6.5 million children younger than 6 years are actually receiving: namely, care offered in a home-based or family-based setting outside the child's own home, by regulated and unregulated providers.

The Foundation calls this "friend, family, and neighbor" (FFN) care, and recommends that, because FFN care shapes a significant part of the childhood experience for millions of children, it's time to attend to the most promising strategies that can strengthen this form of care-especially for low-income families. To that end, the Foundation has included an essay on FFN care in its 2006 Kids Count Data Book ( http://www.aecf.org/kidscount/).

FFN care has positive attributes for many parents, the foundation's report points out. Providers may be in close proximity to the child's home, open for extended hours (nights, weekends) that are not available at centers, charge less, and be closer in style and programming to parents' own culture and values. To advance the quality of FFN care, the foundation calls for: