August 06, 2012

By Liza Dorison

Supporting Family Child Care: A Conversation with Barbara Sawyer

Barbara Sawyer is the Director of Special Projects at the National Association for Family Child Care (NAFCC) and has worked in the early care and education field for over thirty years. From the time Sesame’s Healthy Habits for Life initiative launched in the early 2000’s, the NAFCC has been a key partner with Sesame Workshop to deliver these crucial messages on nutrition and physical activity. With the NAFCC’s support and through their national network of providers, Healthy Habits for Life materials have reached thousands of children in family child care.

Last week in continuation of this partnership, Barbara joined with Sesame Workshop’s Outreach staffers at the NAFCC’s Annual Conference in Atlanta, Georgia, to host a roundtable discussion of experts, representing the nutrition, physical activity, and early education fields.

Before the event, we caught up with Barbara to talk about family child care and the NAFCC’s work in obesity prevention.

Sesame Workshop:  What can you tell me about the National Association for Family Child Care and the particular ways it supports child care providers?

Barbara Sawyer: The National Association for Family Child Care is a non-profit organization that promotes quality child care by strengthening the profession of family child care. The goals of the association include strengthening state and local associations as the primary support system for individual family child care providers, promoting a professional accreditation program which recognizes and encourages quality care for children, and representing family child care providers by advocating for their needs and collaborating with other organizations. The NAFCC is one of the only membership organizations that is dedicated to family child care providers who work in their own home with primarily a small group of children. About 65% of these providers work independently and do not have an assistant; therefore they are the only adult with the children. One of the ways the NAFCC works to improve the quality of this care is by inviting the providers to belong to a peer support group.

SW: What does the NAFCC do to improve family child care and what resources does the NAFCC administer for child care providers and for families? Specifically, what projects are undertaken within the NAFCC?

Sawyer: One of the ways the NAFCC and Sesame Workshop have collaborated is through the distribution of Healthy Habits for Life kits. This is a way that the NAFCC can directly impact child care providers. These kits help providers improve their curriculum and offer additional activities that providers can use during the day, especially in the area of physical education.

In addition, the NAFCC works with Accreditation as a self-study process. Our standards offer child care providers a tool to help identify how adept they are in a developmental domain or content area. Providers are able to make targeted improvements based on these standards. Any project the NAFCC undertakes has to impact the quality of care, whether giving providers additional training or information on specific topics. Finding professional development opportunities can be a challenge so any project the NAFCC takes on can be directly related to supporting providers themselves or improving the quality of care in the home.

SW: What is the NAFCC’s key message? 

Sawyer: Well, the key message is that family child care is everywhere, whether or not people recognize it in their community! When these care providers are regulated, the quality of child care is higher. The NAFCC provides a system in the community to both regulate and support the family child care. Providers are often invisible and excluded in the professional development activities. They often work independently and can’t advocate for themselves; therefore, it is important to raise awareness about this topic.

SW: Are there ways that the average person can help with the NAFCC’s mission and goals?

Sawyer: The average person can help the NAFCC’s mission by knowing what the regulations around family child care are and that regulation is the foundation of quality. Regulation is an important part of protecting children. What are the foundations that are in place to regulate family child care? Are there providers who aren’t required to be regulated? If so, how are they monitored? For the community and for parents, what are the indicators of high quality family child care?

For parents considering family child care, what should you be looking at, listening for, and asking about when you interview a family child care provider? What are your feelings about the provider? Does the provider respect children? We recommend you take your children with you so you can see the interactions with the provider and watch how the children in the program respond to each other. Are there happy sounds? Does the provider talk about the kids with respect and treat the family and children with respect? These are important questions to consider.

SW: What is the relationship between Sesame Workshop and the NAFCC?

Sawyer:  In 2004, the NAFCC was asked to be on an advisory committee regarding mechanisms that may impact early children in childhood programs in many different environments. The answer was to support the quality of care, and we began with the obesity campaign. What could we do to impact the quality of child care and the health of children in child care arrangements?  Together, we offered a number of suggestions, which eventually developed into the Healthy Habits for Life initiative. The relationship has since blossomed and we have been successful in distribution across the country. When a new grant from the Health and Human services was being written, Senior Vice President for Outreach and Educational Practices at Sesame Workshop, Jeanette Betancourt, asked if the NAFCC was interested in partnering again and participating in broader distribution. It is among my favorite projects that we have ever worked on. It is so exciting to see an organization that is committed to making a difference for family child care. From the NAFCC perspective, this is one of our most treasured partnerships.

SW:  There are other recognized programs regarding early care in the education field with whom you could partner, so why did you choose to partner with Sesame Workshop? What resources do you receive from Sesame Workshop? 

Sawyer:  Well, it started with the Healthy Habits for Life kit. Now, we will be distributing the We Have the Moves kit. Last year, we distributed the Food for Thought kit. We distribute the information to NAFCC members and give them access to additional resources that Sesame Workshop has developed, such as Sesame Street’s resources for Military Families. Individuals can see that the resources are not just for the family child care provider, but are also developed for the family and the community.

There are two very specific resources that I have used for my family. First, my granddaughter’s father was deployed and my daughter in law said that the Talk, Listen, Connect for Military Families resources were absolutely the most helpful. In addition, the resources provided about dealing with grief are extremely valuable. There was an instance when a family child care provider had an asthma attack and passed away; the resources were accessed in order to help the several young children in her care. Sesame Workshop provided material for that specific instance.

SW: What can you tell me about the NAFCC and Sesame Workshop roundtable discussion that you and Sesame’s Rocio Galarza moderated on Thursday, July 26 in Atlanta, GA? 

Sawyer: Well, many of the people on the roundtable are nutrition and physical activity experts. The unpublished goal is to increase people’s understanding and commitment to family child care as a field. The other goals are to plan a new project or think of a new development, as well as to expand the philosophy through these experts. We hope to highlight the process, outcomes and impact of the NAFCC’s work since the 2011 NAFCC Roundtable Discussion and to discuss and generate recommendations for future support of family child care as a field. It is great to have the staff from Sesame Workshop carrying this message because they are well respected and committed to the organization.

SW: Thank you, Barbara!  It should be a great event!

Roundtable Moderators:

  • Barbara Sawyer, National Association for Family Child Care (NAFCC)
  • Rocio Galarza, Sesame Workshop

Discussion Facilitators:

  • Chrissy App, Sesame Workshop
  • Amelia Swabb, Sesame Workshop

Expert Participants:

  • Linda Anderson, National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC)
  • Eva Daniels, National Association for Family Child Care (NAFCC)
  • Karen Davis Platt, Child Care Aware of America (formerly NACCRRA)
  • Monica DuttonHurt, National Association for Family Child Care (NAFCC)
  • Arlene Ennis, Family Child Care Provider
  • Allison S. Gertel-Rosenberg, Nemours
  • Moniquin Huggins, Office of Child Care (OCC)
  • Erika Lundy, Administration for Children and Families, Office of Child Care
  • Margaret Oberg, Family Child Care Provider
  • Joe Perreault, Child Care and Early Education Volunteer
  • Rachel Polon, USDA
  • Meredith Reynolds, Center for Disease Control (CDC)
  • Maria Taylor, The National Registry Alliance
  • Barbara Wall, ICF International
  • Dianne Stanton Ward, University of North Carolina
  • Jill Zubrod-Hernandez, American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)

Audience Members:

  • Ellaine B. Miller
  • Patricia Sullivant
  • Barbara Ann Mattle
  • Linda Schumacher
  • Yvonne Collins
  • Dawn Cramer


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