Early Learning Strategy: Informal Caregivers Research Project

Prepared for
The David and Lucile Packard Foundation

If young children are to reach their full potential and succeed in school and life, they must have loving adults to provide safe and stimulating environments. Most of the national policy discussions about improving children’s school readiness focus on enhancing the quality of instruction and behavioral support in formal settings such as child care centers and licensed family child care homes. The David and Lucile Packard Foundation’s Children, Families, and Communities (CFC) program is focusing part of its 10-year Early Learning strategy on identifying caregivers who provide informal child care in California, learning about their needs for support, and funding and evaluating promising approaches to enhance the quality of children’s experiences in these settings. Funded by CFC, the Informal Caregivers Research Project answered the following research questions:

1. Who are informal caregivers in California?

2. What are their existing networks and needs for support?

3. What are promising outreach methods and approaches to meet their needs?

To answer these questions, the Informal Caregivers Research Project included five key activities:

1. A literature scan of recent national and California-specific research on informal caregiving

2. Interviews with two state- and four county-level key informants to learn about existing informal caregiver networks and initiatives

3. Discussions with five individuals from child care resource and referral agencies and other organizations with knowledge of California’s voucher-based child care subsidy system

4. Site visits to five community organizations in Alameda and Santa Clara counties that provide resources and services for parents and caregivers

5. Graphic representations of social systems and supports for informal caregivers and parents through a technique called ecomapping

Mathematica presented findings from the study in three issue briefs and a webinar. The first brief, “Setting the Stage: The Importance of Informal Child Care in California,” highlighted the importance of informal child care in California and set the stage for the next two briefs. The second brief, “A Closer Look: Informal Child Care Arrangements and Support in California,” described informal caregiver and parent networks, focusing on child care arrangements and sources of support and information related to caregiving. The third brief, “Moving Forward Together: How Programs Can Support Informal Caregivers and Parents,” discussed the strengths that parents and informal caregivers bring to caring for children; the varied roles they fill; their needs for information and support; barriers they face in accessing caregiving resources; and recommendations for outreach methods, programs, and policies to address their needs. The webinar summarized findings from all three briefs and included additional findings, conclusions, and recommendations.

As part of the Informal Caregivers Research Project, we also developed three interview protocols: a key informant interview protocol, a caregiver/parent interview protocol, and an ecomap interview protocol.