Theses Doctoral

Reconceptualizing Quality in Family Child Care: Unpacking Provider Perceptions of Quality and Their Implications for Alignment and Engagement with Quality Rating and Improvement Systems

Melvin, Samantha

Home-based child care providers, including regulated family child care (FCC) providers, have long been the backbone of caregiving in the United States. Throughout the 21st century, federal and state governments have endeavored to enhance the quality of early childhood education and care (ECEC) programs to realize promising impacts on child development and learning, such as through investments in creating quality rating and improvement systems (QRIS). However, QRIS often have center-centric standards, are focused more on structural aspects of programs than caring and teaching processes, have demonstrated limited associations with child outcomes, and struggle to engage FCC providers. As federal and state governments move to incorporate FCC providers more deeply into ECEC systems in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, this study explores the components of quality that 169 FCC providers across four states value and how a (mis)alignment in these priorities may relate to their engagement in QRIS. This mixed method study mobilizes institutional and reconceptualist theories to explore how FCC providers adopt and resist institutionalized visions of ECEC quality that largely privilege white, Western, and center-centric perspectives.

Findings indicate that FCC providers hold varied perspectives on what makes their programs great. Some providers’ perceptions of quality emphasized more structural and symbolic elements aligned with normative ideas of quality, while other providers’ perceptions balanced professional ideals about things like child-centered pedagogy and skill development alongside a focus on fostering loving, family-like, and culturally sustaining relationships with children and their families. While most providers shared at least one component of quality with their state’s QRIS standards (most often related to pedagogy), they also felt that QRIS and other policy systems placed too much emphasis on more structural and bureaucratic elements of their programs instead of on their relationships with children and families. While a few providers felt genuinely engaged in and satisfied with their QRIS, others faced challenges, intentionally stayed at lower rating levels, or dropped out of the QRIS entirely. Findings from this study have implications for creating more culturally and contextually responsive visions of quality, QRIS standards, and ECEC systems in the United States, all of which can be more attuned to the strengths and needs of children, families, and the FCC providers that care for them.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Education Policy
Thesis Advisors
Kagan, Sharon L.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
February 2, 2022