Programming Family, Friend, and Neighbor Care

On any given day in our region, thousands of families rely on Family, Friend, and Neighbor (FFN) child care for their little ones. Northeast Minnesota has a 55% shortage of licensed child care, or nearly 4,000 openings. Waitlists, especially for infants, can be years-long.

Grandparents or other relatives, nearby neighbors, or friends are a go-to when licensed child care is simply not available where and when parents need it.

“FFN providers are becoming more prevalent. We only have two licensed family child care providers in our district, and the two nearest centers are a 25-minute drive for families,” said Heather Seppala, Early Childhood Coordinator for Mesabi East Schools.

For other families, FFN care is their first choice because of affordability, familiarity, or cultural alignment. Regardless of why, FFN caregivers are often without a peer group, training, or other supports to help them in their vitally important task caring for young children.

The Northland Foundation’s FFN Child Care Provider Outreach and Support Initiative, with ten community-based partner organizations, is connecting FFN caregivers with a place to socialize, enhance their child care skills, and feel supported. Key funding came from the Minnesota Department of Human Services and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota Foundation.

Partner sites offer conversation and learning, and resources like craft supplies or children’s books, at free get-togethers called Play & Learns. Here, FFN caregivers – many of whom didn’t view themselves as “real” child care providers – have a sense of belonging and community.

In Cook County, Public Health and Human Services together with Sawtooth Mountain Clinic’s Early Childhood Resource Hub have held Play & Learns for, on average, 46 FFN providers and children each month.

Many Cook County and Grand Portage Tribal Nation families are geographically isolated. Through Play & Learns, resource kits, and dedicated child care support staff there to answer questions, we show FFN providers how important they are. — Nancie Deming

Last year, the ten FFN partners hosted 85 Play & Learn sessions including 1,038 caregivers and 1,500 children.

As the initiative continues to gain momentum, more of these “informal but invaluable” caregivers will recognize, and be supported in, their vital role in the lives of young children.