Jolene Hunt-Fleming did not hesitate nearly 13 years ago when her daughter asked for help with her newborn baby son. She knew her daughter, a single parent, needed full-time child care to finish school and work.

Hunt-Fleming, who has worked for years as a mortgage funder and is certified in human services, also stepped in when the next three grandchildren – now ages 2, 6, and 9 – came along. My daughter “was very skeptical about other people watching her children,” said Hunt-Fleming, who lives in La Habra, California.

Although the work has been a personal joy, it’s also been a financial sacrifice. The grandmother learned quickly from the Children’s Home Society of California that the state offers subsidies for family caregivers, but the pay might well be below minimum wage. At one point, Hunt-Fleming — who cradled her 2-year-old granddaughter in her lap during most of our interview over Zoom — made only $1.79 an hour for the work. She currently earns about $2,800 each month from the state to watch the 2-year-old full time, and her siblings part-time. “If I wasn’t providing care for the children…I’m sure it would be substantially more that I would be bringing in,” she said.

Family, friend and neighbor caregivers, often referred to as “informal” care, are both underpaid and too often unable to access the money they are entitled to, according to a new policy brief from Early Edge California, which supports quality early learning opportunities for children from birth; the brief was produced in collaboration with several other groups. Between a third and a half of all children under the age of five receive informal care from a family member, friend or neighbor, making it the most common child care arrangement for this age group outside of parental care. Many of these caregivers are grandparents, like Hunt-Fleming.

In many states, informal caregivers are eligible for some form of funded support for their work, the most common being child care subsidies for children from low-income families. There are also state and locally-funded models for support. But nationally, less than 20 percent of the more than 4.5 million informal caregivers receive the subsidies or related payment, according to a 2022 report from the BUILD Initiative, which provides support to state leaders for early childhood programs. In California about one in four of informal caregivers go unpaid, the Early Edge report noted.

Read the full article about child care providers by Sarah Carr at The Hechinger Report .