Family, Friend, and Neighbor Caregivers

In Colorado it is estimated that up to 57% of children under 6 are cared for informally by family members, friends, and neighbors (FFN) and this number continues to grow. Small towns, mountain communities, and rural areas with less access to professional child care tend to rely more heavily on FFN care, as do cultural groups who hope to retain their native language or customs. For many reasons, parents may choose FFN care even when formal childcare options are available and affordable.

A grandmother and her granddaughter play together at the library.

Quite likely, many of these informal caregivers are already in your library. The public library is perfectly situated to support early learning, particularly for children in informal care without professional support systems.  Growing Readers Together is focused on supporting library service to FFN in the community and over the years, participating libraries have connected with this group and expanded their early learning knowledge and access. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Who are FFN caregivers?

A Family, Friend, and Neighbor caregiver is anyone who cares for a child other than their own on a regular basis without a need for licensing or formal training. Many FFN caregivers do not even consider what they are doing to be “childcare.” They are grandparents spending time with their grandchild while the parents work. They are a sister or neighbor who watches another child along side her own. They are babysitters, nannies, and au pairs with a wide range of early childhood knowledge and experience. They are older siblings watching their little brother or sister after school. The wide range or identities and experiences is one of the challenges in serving Family, Friend, and Neighbor caregivers.

How can my library serve FFNs?

Because these caregivers come from such a wide variety of backgrounds and identify in such different ways, there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to serving Family, Friend, and Neighbor caregivers. The first step is identifying the FFNs in your community and building relationships. By offering inclusive programming with intentional early learning messaging, libraries are providing early learning opportunities for children and enhancing the early literacy knowledge of all caregivers in the community. The impact of these programs and messaging in increased when they are taken off-site through outreach and community partnership. Some libraries have had success inviting FFNs directly to play groups and programs designed to meet the needs of FFNs in the community. Other libraries have focused on specific groups, such as teen caregivers or grandparents, and offered programs marketed specifically to them.

For more insight on best practices, take a look at the 2020 Growing Readers Together report, linked above.

How should I refer to FFN caregivers?

The language we use when we refer to the adults attending our storytimes and programs matters! If we are always referring to “parents” we are not addressing everyone in the room. It is important to use inclusive language whenever possible. Rather than “parents” try using “caregiver” on marketing materials, or in more casual situations, like during an early literacy aside, refer to the group as “grown-ups.”

When you are marketing programs specifically to informal caregivers, remember, the term “FFN” is not commonly used, and most caregivers are unfamiliar with the term. Often FFN caregivers do not even think of themselves as caregivers, though this is a popular term and understood by most. If possible, try marketing to a specific group, like grandparents, nannies, or teen babysitters.

How do I identify FFNs in my community?

Many Family, Friend and Neighbor caregivers do utilize library services, with or without the children in their care, but there are far more in your community that may not be able to make it to the physical library. Transportation has been listed as one of the largest obstacles FFN face. Outreach is a key element in connecting with FFN caregivers. Think about what community partners are also invested in early childhood and may provide services for caregivers. Look for other places in the community where children and caregivers may frequent.

When trying to identify FFNs in your library or community, it can feel awkward asking if they are caring for other children. Some may be unsure of the laws surrounding FFN care and be intimidated if you ask directly. Some ways we have found to approach the topic is to ask:

  • “Who did you bring with you today?”
  • “Is this your grandchild/niece/ nephew?”
  • “Are you helping take care of the kids today?”

Additional Research and Reports

Engaging Colorado’s FFN Childcare Providers in Early Childhood Systems (Early Milestones, 2021)

Strategies for Supporting Family, Friend, and Neighbor Caregivers (National Women’s Law Center, 2016)

School Readiness for All: The Contribution of Family, Friend, and Neighbor Care in Colorado (FFN Learning Community, 2013)