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LeagueTLC Innovation Express
Exploring Issues, Innovations, and New Developments
with Information Technology Professionals

NET Results:
Using Distance Education
to Create Learning Environments and Provide Mentors
for Family Child Care Providers

 

New Hampshire Community Technical College


A FIPSE project now at midpoint in New Hampshire is pushing the limits of who can be well served in an anytime, anywhere environment. New Hampshire’s community colleges are crafting the anytime, anywhere to truly fit an overlooked anyone: the family child care provider. Preliminary but encouraging findings indicate an approach that

  • Increases access to education,
  • Enhances learning,
  • Impacts quality of care, and
  • Empowers family providers as self-directed lifelong learners.

Project Summary

The crucial element in the quality of a child’s experience is the adults who are providing their care. Improving child care in family settings means providing educational opportunities for nontraditional students who are isolated caregivers. New Hampshire Community Technical College System (NHCTCS) is netting results by using distance learning to form synergistic networks improving quality care for New Hampshire’s children.

The project underway is beginning to unlock the doors to an underserved national audience of some of the most important yet least valued educators in the country. Higher education institutions and even Head Start programs have been confounded in their attempts to reach this population. A hybrid delivery system of online courses and mentors shows early evidence of success connecting family child care providers to education in their field and to a network of their peers. NHCTCS has begun to distill insights as to what works well. The “NET Results” will be synthesized and disseminated in 2005.

Background

The multidisciplinary research report From Neurons to Neighborhoods succinctly states that “scientific evidence on significant developmental impact of early experience is incontrovertible”. The report also cites the “specific importance of parenting and regular caregiving relationships” and the long-term impact of child care quality on a child’s growth, development, and school performance. Inspired by the compelling report, the stakeholders of New Hampshire’s child care system, including core college leaders, have focused on the training needs of family child care providers as a priority.

The Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE), the New Hampshire Child Care Bureau, the New Hampshire Family Child Care Association, and Providian Financial are supporting the efforts of New Hampshire’s community colleges to develop an online certificate program that responds to the specific needs of family providers.

Need for the project

Family-based care comprises the largest sector of the country’s child care industry. These caregivers are the least trained and take care of the most children. The overwhelming majority of parents, particularly families in rural areas and those with infants and toddlers, prefer family child care. In New Hampshire, 67 percent of infants and 52 percent of toddlers are cared for in family homes.

Typically, family providers get into the business as a means to stay home with their own children, viewing themselves as temporary providers of care who do not differentiate the skills and knowledge needed to care for other children from parenting the way they were parented. Few family providers have been trained in early childhood, and most do not consider themselves professional. They are invisible, isolated, and work long hours. Many are located in rural or remote communities and operate out of the mainstream of early childhood organizations, resources, and expertise. Family child care is often described as an underground industry.

Child care experts concur that the single most critical factor in child care quality is training. Despite myriad attempts to provide financial aid and flexible course offerings, family providers who attend college courses are rare. Although they account for two-thirds of all child care in New Hampshire, only 10 percent of the recipients of scholarships targeted for child care providers are from family child care homes. Those who do attend these courses express frustration that the regular curriculum is seldom geared to their interests and needs.

Community Colleges have traditionally been the primary source for early childhood education and training across the United States. Like NHCTCS, many community colleges are leaders in distance education. The traditional instructional model and campus-based delivery of courses bypass the needs of family providers. As the technology for distance learning and flexible web-based delivery systems expand and improve, community colleges are well positioned to apply these new capabilities to outreach, educate, and support a heretofore underserved population of learners who have a vital role in the growth and development of very young children and infants.

The FIPSE project Using Distance Education to Create Learning Environments and Provide Mentors for Family Child Care Providers brings together three essential innovations in training and professional development for family providers in a way not previously attempted by two-year colleges:

  • A focus on content relevant to the needs of family child care providers,
  • Development and implementation of a mentor network to provide social and professional support to participants in the project, and
  • Use of distance learning strategies and technology to increase the accessibility of the project to potential participants throughout the state of New Hampshire.

Project Description

The project aims to demonstrate the potential for distance education to overcome the logistical, financial, and psychological barriers for family child care providers who lack formal training in early childhood to enroll in college-level courses required for a basic child care certificate. The project design includes experienced family providers as mentors for family providers who are students in online courses. The mentorship component provides the critical face-to-face support for a high-touch enhancement of usual distance learning programs. The goal of the project is to develop an effective practitioner-based, user-friendly, online Family Child Care Certificate program that will increase access of family providers to college-level education, thus leading to improved quality of child care.

Early childhood education coordinators among four separate community colleges in the NHCTCS are collaborating to design the online Family Child Care Certificate. Two online courses have been field tested, and the development phase will be completed by fall 2004. Students are eligible for scholarships designated for child care providers from the New Hampshire Child Development Bureau.

Each college offers traditional early childhood education certificate and associate degree programs. The new certificate will consist of four three-credit courses specific to family providers. Input from focus groups and professional organizations provides the core information to revise content-specific courses. The four courses are Health, Safety, and Nutrition in Family Child Care; Family Child Care Business Management; Child Growth and Development; and Curriculum and the Environment in the Family Child Care Home.

The Early childhood program coordinators are trailblazers as they collaborate to create the first new and totally online certificate in our system. The courses are available to any student under the auspices of NHCTCS’ statewide Distance Education Collaborative. As well as creating distinctive content for a new audience, the project is a rich source of information for the system as a whole for a range of issues related to statewide delivery of online learning: course numbering, multiple curriculum committees, revenue sharing, online registration, transferability of credits, and support services.

Professional mentors who are also family care providers ease students into the college curriculum, provide the human touch, and ensure success in this first college attempt. Through online strategies such as chat rooms and bulletin boards incorporated into their coursework, these providers have additional contact with others in their field, thus opening the door for continued professional networks.

Home visits by mentors are netting immediate improvement and reducing isolation. In addition, the mentors provide feedback to NHCTCS as to improvements or needs in the field for future coursework. Current online enrollment indicates the success of this program and a need to increase content-specific courses to satisfy growing interest. As additional pockets of child care become linked into synergistic networks, the improvement of child care is guaranteed. In addition, the success of the student during the certification process has the potential for increasing a desire for additional classes and degrees.

What’s next?

Across the country, 1,000,000 family child care providers educate and care for 4,000,000 children. There are also 1,400 community colleges, many with early childhood programs. Our project strives to create a model for community colleges to reach out to provide education and support in early care and education to an underserved audience of teachers and learners – family child care providers – in their homes and according to their needs.

A project brochure in available online.

For more information, contact Bobi White, FIPSE Project Director, New Hampshire Community Technical College System or call (603) 271-6731, or email program facilitators.

 
 

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