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FFN caregivers present many challenges to any library wishing to serve them. They might not always be hard to find- they are out there and we see them in our community. Sometimes, they have more than one child in their care. They might also appear busy, loving, patient, overwhelmed, relaxed, worried, good listeners, or all of the above. One thing they all have in common, though; plenty of love for the children in their care.
As librarians, when we see these people we acknowledge their work, we admire and respect their devotion, but we also often ask ourselves what can be done to help them.
After all, we have a library full of books, resources, and other materials to support their work; we have a children’s library full of early literacy books, games, and manipulatives; we have blocks, puppets, Storytimes and lots of fun activities for the younger ones.
But, here’s the trick: we don’t often see them using our resources, or maybe we only serve a couple of grandmothers once a week. Why is that? What can we do to get them into the library? Do we have to go outside the library walls to serve them?
After a year working with FFNs and 14 libraries in southern & eastern Colorado that serve them, the staff of “Growing Readers Together”- a project of the Colorado State Library funded by a grant from the Temple Hoyne Buell Foundation- have some insights that might help you on your journey with FFNs.
Who are they? They are around us, by the family side, always helping and giving support. They are grandparents, uncles, aunts, neighbors, friends of the family, friends from church, friends from the community, babysitters, etc. Anyone can be an FFN!
What do they do? They help their families, friends, and neighbors by watching their kids. The schedules can vary- they may take care of these kids every day, maybe the whole day or just the afternoons. Or, they may just watch the kids on the weekends or one or two days a week. A lot depends on the work schedules of the parents.
Why they do this? Some of them do this out of love! They want to help their family members extending an extra hand. Maybe they want to be a good friend or a good neighbor and help that family in need of help. Some others do it for the extra cash, to help pay some bills, college, studies or just an extra income. Sometimes families will trade child care services so there’s no need to worry about payment.
What do they have in common? What we have learned is that no matter the reasons they provide this kind of help, they want the best for the children in their care. They want to provide them with better early childhood experiences, with more resources and materials and are willing to give them the best they have.
Where do we find FFNs?
FFN providers often stay in their own homes or in a trusted place where they can take the kids they watch. They are likely to be in kid- friendly places, close to their home. They prefer to stay in their own communities, mostly in their neighborhoods.
Some places where you might find FFNs:
Fast food restaurants with playgrounds
At a local mall (kid’s area/kid’s playground)
How do we find FFNs?
Magic words….Outreach, outreach and more outreach!
Finding FFNs will mean going outside your walls.
If they are not already coming to the library, it may be because they aren’t aware of it, the services it has to offer, or be unsure if their kids are even welcome there. Sometimes, FFN providers may worry about kids being too noisy or active.
Go where they are, get close and talk to them about who you are, where you work, what you have to offer them, and the support you can bring them.
Don’t be afraid, even though FFNs may sound like unique, exotic creatures, they are actually regular people with big hearts; providing help to their loved ones. They will really appreciate some new ideas, support, and resources.