Building Belonging in Systems Leadership for Home-based Providers.

| Danielle Caldwell

Early Childhood Workforce Perspectives

          Over the past three years, my role as a champion and advocate for Home-based childcare has materialized into an opportunity to serve as the “Provider in Residence” with The National Workforce Registry Alliance (NWRA).  This dynamic represents a shift from my past working relationship with organizations, evolving from transactional to collaborative. As an early educator categorized as a home-based provider, there is a general devaluation in how our segment of the workforce is viewed. The fostering of respect between “grass-top” efforts versus “grass-roots” efforts in the early childhood workforce is a subject of contention for most providers. 

          For nearly three decades, I have been invited to participate on a variety of councils, committees, and other forums, often that experience feels like an effort to check a box that says “provider input” was included. Typically, I am asked to participate during the final leg of projects, well after the core details have been developed and decided upon. While I am respectfully listened to, the box gets checked, and the “experts” in the room then decide what is best and proceed with their business as usual.

          My experience walking through life within the intersection of a Black woman in the care industry has grounded me with resilience to withstand preconceived notions about my knowledge, value, and experience in the field. More often than not, my posture becomes quietly defensive in professional spaces. My interactions go well until I introduced myself as a home-based provider (for which I am very proud). Afterward, I feel the dismissive, unspoken language that devalues my contribution to the conversations.

          I say that to emphasize why attending and participating in this year’s National Workforce Registry Alliance was refreshing. Registry directors and staff were genuinely interested in the workforce perspective. My appreciation of registries has deepened significantly due to firsthand experience with their staff’s commitment to collecting meaningful data to improve the lives of their participants. Registry staff were eager to hear directly from the workforce and were actively looking for strategies to do outreach effectively. Some states, like Maine, have even designed programs to support the needs of home-based providers and would like to expand to become more inclusive of FFN specifically.

          I experienced each conference session as though designed to build The NWRA’s mission for leading with a human-centered approach. First, acknowledging that ALL children deserve a quality education regardless of the delivery system. Data also shows that most of our nation’s families utilize home-based childcare, especially families working non-traditional hours. The states and registries also acknowledged a considerable data gap due to FFN (Friend, Family, and Neighbor) caregivers not participating in registries. 

          As an ECE professional, it is encouraging to know that the NWRA and the state registries seek not only to value the human potential of the workforce but also to maximize it by exploring career pathways and lattices for home-based providers. The potential for registry data to change the policy trajectory and, ultimately, the workforce’s lives is at the heart of what they do.

In 2021, the NWRA created its first Equity & Inclusion Committee. This group initially was known as the JEDI Committee (Justice, Equity, Diversity, & Inclusion). Through early work together, they quickly surfaced Belonging as a critical value and outcome in our collective work. The desire for belonging held such a profound role in our collective vision, it was added to the committee name, now called the (B)JEDI (Be JEDI) Committee. Belonging is held as a prominent organizational and cultural commitment in our pursuit of a more just and equitable society, is something we strive to ensure our staff, members, and the workforce experience in our approach, engagements, and policies.

To learn more about this work visit our webpage or to join our (B)JEDI Committee, contact Danielle at  or .

Belonging wheel with the dimensions of belonging: present, invited, welcomed, known, accepted, involved, supported, heard, befriended, needed

Image from the College of Human Development 

TIES Center, University of Minnesota
Institute on Community Integration


The “Provider In Residence” is a new role in 2023, made possible by the generous support of Home Grown and their collaborating foundations. This position was developed, in part, to elevate the workforce we strive to serve by bringing their participation, insights, voices, and experiences closely into our work. This position allows us to ensure we have a workforce representative present in our early discussions, planning, and state and national meetings. We are pleased to have Ms. Caldwell as an integral member of our staffing team and to be piloting a program of this nature. It strongly aligns with our values, our mission, and our public commitments. This program is one we hope to see reproduced in states and is one crucial first step in our effort to authentically engage workforce members in our work. We look forward to what 2024 will bring and to planning for how we collectively bring more workforce perspectives into our efforts.