Tūtū and Me is one of several family-child interaction learning programsin Hawaii that offers support to the state’s large number of non-parental caregivers who provide child care each day. At least 43 percent of young children in Hawaii were watched by friends or relatives in 2019. The state has the highest percentage of families — 72 percent — that use federal funds to pay for unlicensed care, such as that provided by grandparents and friends.

These caregivers — mostly women and largely invisible within the broader child care ecosystem — are often isolated in their homes and can’t always access the funding and training critical to offering the best care possible during a pivotal time of children’s brain development.

“What they learn in our program, what we’re trying to teach them, is that they are that child’s most important educator,” said Shawn Kanaʻiaupuni, president and CEO of the Hawaii-based Partners in Development Foundation, which runs Tūtū and Me. “Nobody is born knowing how to be a parent or caregiver, we all have to learn it.”

Ferreira, who brought another grandchild to a different Tūtū and Me location more than 15 years ago, has seen immense benefits for Talia. The preschooler is now more prepared for kindergarten, Ferreira said, and has learned aspects of Native Hawaiian culture that are meaningful to their family. Through the program, Ferreira has learned how to teach Talia how to form letters. “She won’t do that here,” Ferreira whispered, as Talia eyed some handwriting practice sheets before opening a drawing journal and coloring in a picture with a thick pink crayon. “But I’m doing it at home, just to reinforce it,” she added.

For generations, families have relied on friends, family members and neighbors to help care for young children during the day. Friend, family and neighbor (FFN) care is the most common form of non-parental child care in America. Experts estimate at least 60 percent of children under age 6 spend their days in such arrangements with more than 4 million caregivers — mostly grandparents or aunts — a number that has grown over the past decade.

This type of care is especially common in low income communities, among families with limited English proficiency, in immigrant communities and for children with disabilities. During the pandemic, friend and family caregivers were a lifeline for many parents; recent data shows parents continue to desire and value it. Child care provided by relatives or other informal caregivers can offer valuable benefits for children, such as consistency of care, support of native language and culture, flexibility and affordability.

Read the full article about childcare industry by Jackie Mader at The Hechinger Report.