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Addressing the Trilemma of Child Care Quality, Cost, and Access by Unlocking the Potential of Family, Friend, and Neighbor Care

We will increase child care access, affordability, and quality by unlocking the untapped potential of family, friend, and neighbor care.

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Updates: How has your idea changed or evolved throughout the Prize? What updates have you made to this submission? (1500 characters)

Although the core concept and goals remain the same, our proposal has evolved. Team conversations about logistics have generated many questions. We’ve discussed how PASO and Hapu will interface with each other (e.g., What would it look like for Hapu on-boarding to occur during the PASO module on professional practices?). We’ve also talked about how Hapu will be adapted to the U.S. context (e.g., Providers in Australia are required to undergo police checks, documented in Hapu as part of the “carer verifications”. Would background checks [not mandated in Colorado for FFN providers] play a role in our model? If so, who would be responsible for verification?). We’ve also discussed the online PASO training (e.g., Current PASO participants are largely low-income Latina providers. Will this be the target of the online training, or will it be intended for a broader audience?). Taking stock of all our questions, we have decided to turn to our potential users for answers through a comprehensive human-centered design (HCD) process. This decision is in line with the recommendations of our mentor, who suggested that we use the Prize opportunity to engage in a small pilot of joint implementation of Hapu and PASO rather than diving into full-scale operations. We are confident that this greater investment in the research and early testing stage will allow us to better serve our users and ensure that the expected outcomes of our model—improved child care quality, cost, and access—are achieved.

Name or Organization

The Policy Equity Group, LLC ( will be the “backbone” organization, providing project coordination and support. Our on-the-ground partners will be Hapu Pty Limited (, an innovative technology company that has developed an app that links families and FFN providers, and the Colorado Statewide Parent Coalition (CSPC;, an organization that provides professional development in child development and early learning for FFN providers.


Organizations in Colorado, Washington, D.C., & Sydney, Australia will pilot our solution in Colorado

What is your stage of development?

  • Advanced Innovator with 3 to 10+ years of experience in ECD


  • Team

What is the stage of your proposal?

  • Research & Early Testing: I am exploring my idea, gathering the inspiration and information I need to test it with real users.

Describe how your solution could be a game-changer for your selected Opportunity Area (600 characters)

The “sharing economy,” built on models like Lyft and Airbnb, taps underused assets to increase supply and drive down costs. Applying this model to FFN care could lower costs for parents, raise FFN providers’ income, and increase child care quality and access. An innovative technology platform will help families and FFN providers create “child care share” arrangements and facilitate financial transactions. The quality of FFN care will be raised by training providers as experts in early childhood education. Our work will be informed by design thinking and behavioral economics.

Select an Innovation Target

  • Platform: Creating a community or market that facilitates interaction between users and resources.

Tell us more about your innovation (1500 characters)

For decades, the focus of improving child care has been on the licensed early care and education (ECE) system. Although these efforts are critical, the current capacity of licensed ECE settings in Colorado is sufficient to serve only 27 percent of all children under age 6. As a complementary effort to improving the licensed ECE system, it makes sense to focus on the settings where the majority of young children are—FFN care. Although not part of the traditional ECE system, FFN providers’ potential to shape children’s development is no less significant. What if we reimagined the ECE workforce to include ALL those who care for young children—a stay-at-home parent, grandmother, nanny, or neighbor? By recognizing these individuals as prospective ECE specialists and offering appropriate supports, we could ensure all caregivers are well-equipped to provide high-quality care. Our goal is to elevate FFN care as another viable option in the child care landscape rather than a default due to access or affordability. Indeed, FFN care has many strengths to build upon, including lower ratios than most licensed care; more flexibility to accommodate families’ needs; and an intimate, home-based setting, which many families prefer for infants and toddlers. By augmenting these existing assets through the child care share arrangements created through Hapu and CSPC’s professional development program, we can empower families and providers to co-create a system that works for them.

What problem are you aiming to solve? (3 sentences)

Parents are often faced with the challenges of living in a “child care desert”, year-long waitlists, and annual costs equivalent to a year of mortgage payments. These conditions lead many families to turn to FFN care, which is often focused on providing a safe place rather than supporting children’s development and learning. Though most children are in some form of FFN care, these providers rarely receive the resources and support they need to reach their full potential as effective caregivers.

Explain your idea (5000 characters)

This innovation will address the “trilemma” of the early care and education landscape by improving access, affordability, and quality of child care options. The majority of young children in Colorado are already in some form of FFN care. However, many FFN providers are currently only caring for one or two children. In 2017, Colorado Senate Bill 110 expanded the number of unrelated children an FFN provider can care for without obtaining a license to four children, with no more than two of the four children younger than age 2. If FFN providers were supported in caring for more children, this would expand child care options. By creating micro-economies of scale, parents pay less by sharing costs and FFN providers increase their earning potential. For example, a provider might charge a base rate of $15/hour for one child and increase the rate by $5/hour for each additional child. In this model, a family would pay a provider $600/week for the care of one child (assuming 40 hours of care). However, in a child care share with four children, each family’s weekly cost would be reduced to $300 per child. At the same time, the provider’s weekly income would increase to $1,200. The innovation joins the forces of Hapu and CSPC. Hapu is an app-based system connecting parents with FFN providers and facilitating the creation of child care shares. Parents can access a marketplace of care options and identify providers based on location, budget, schedule, referrals, and other information in the provider’s listing. After parents and providers connect and establish a good fit for all parties, Hapu helps establish a payment structure, weekly costs, notice periods for leaving, and late fee policies. Hapu’s system applies a provider’s hourly rate to a maximum of four child slots, which then automatically divides and assigns the costs per family, using an automated rate scaling system to reduce costs per child. Funds are automatically transferred on a recurring basis and according to other mutually agreed-upon terms. For instance, a provider can press a button and charge a family a $10 late fee with the explanatory email coming from Hapu rather than the provider. This structure removes money from the discussion, allowing parents and providers to focus on building relationships with each other and the children in their care. While Hapu has launched in Australia, grant funding would support the launch of this innovative technology in the U.S. (e.g., coding, testing, insurance, legal, marketing, outreach with product education) and provide the resources to engage and react to users’ needs quickly and effectively to create a continuous cycle of improvement. CSPC runs the Providers Advancing School Outcomes (PASO) program, which provides professional development to FFN providers, so they can become trained experts in early childhood education. PASO offers intensive, structured 120-hour training programs to FFN providers using a culturally and linguistically responsive ECE curriculum. The training is supplemented by home visits from a mentor-coach to address questions, check for understanding, and discuss the application of course content. PASO also provides materials and guidance for FFN providers to convert an area of their home into a quality learning environment. PASO is aligned with and helps providers prepare for the requirements of the professional Child Development Associate (CDA) certification. Grant funding would support the scaling of the PASO program, including the development of an online delivery method of course content, which would increase the capacity of the program to reach a greater number of FFN providers, meet the unique learning and scheduling needs of these individuals, and lower program costs. Design thinking will be used to keep the needs and experiences of families, providers, and children at the heart of our work. We will use empathic listening and observation in focus groups, interviews, and other methods to gain insights from the perspective of our users. We will also use behavioral economics to help explore potential barriers and solutions to inciting behavior change in families and providers. For example, if insufficient numbers of providers are taking on additional children or participating in training, we may explore the use of micro-incentives (e.g., small financial incentives or other motivating factors such as educational materials or museum passes) to encourage the desired behaviors.

Who benefits? (1500 characters)

This solution benefits young children and the adults that matter most in their lives. FFN providers will experience increased earning potential through serving additional children, business supports through Hapu, and access to professional pathways (e.g., CDA or licensure). Providers will gain the knowledge and strategies they need to be effective caregivers. Greater supply of affordable options will allow families to select child care based on the best fit for their family as opposed to costs, waitlists, and child care deserts as the driving factors. Ultimately, this intervention offers families more affordable, quality child care choices, empower sFFN providers as professionals, and decreases financial stress for parents and providers. In turn, these benefits translate to adults who have greater cognitive and emotional resources to engage in the types of high-quality adult–child interactions that are at the heart of helping each child reach their full developmental potential. Our partners are experienced in building the capacity of families and FFN providers. Hapu has established a robust online presence in Australia to facilitate connections and new relationships among families and providers. The PASO program has a long history of providing high-quality professional development to FFN providers. The Policy Equity Group is deeply experienced in facilitating community-driven change by bringing diverse stakeholders together, including parents and child care providers.

What kind of impact will your idea have? (1500 characters)

Caregiver–child relationships, the primary driver of child development, are profoundly affected by adults’ caregiving skills and knowledge, as well as their stress levels and emotional well-being. This project will build the capacity of the most important adults in a child’s life—parents and child care providers. Child care is a major source of stress for many families given the challenges of finding an arrangement that is feasible in terms of location and schedule as well as consistent with the family’s values and personal definition of quality. Furthermore, child care can place a huge financial strain on parents. Hapu provides an elegant solution by giving families more options that can be accessed in a central location and lowering costs through child care shares. When parents worry less about child care, they can better care for their children. Our proposed model also builds the capacity of FFN providers by empowering them with the knowledge and skills they need to provide high-quality ECE experiences to young children. This translates to an increase in the quality of FFN care, which ultimately supports improved child outcomes. Indeed, an extensive evaluation demonstrated that PASO is associated with significant gains in the quality of FFN settings. Furthermore, the study found statistically significant, positive gains for children whose providers participated in the PASO program. For metrics of success for the current project, see Figure 4 in HCD section.

How does or how could your idea impact low-income children? (1500 characters)

Children will benefit from high-quality early care experiences and the reduced stress of their caregivers. Due to high costs, cultural norms, home language, and hours of available care, many low-income families choose FFN care. Unfortunately, although low-income children often benefit the most from high-quality early experiences, the quality of FFN care is typically low. Evaluation data suggest that PASO is associated with improved FFN care. Approximately 95 percent of children served by PASO providers qualify for free/reduced-price lunch. Among this largely low-income population, children made significant gains on measures of school readiness. Many FFN providers have low incomes. The opportunity to pursue advanced education and increase earning potential would positively affect the financial stability of these providers, who often have young children themselves. Although many FFN providers have low incomes, there is great variability among this group, particularly when it is conceptualized to include stay-at-home parents and nannies. Regardless of income, FFN providers want to learn how best to support children’s development and most Americans across socioeconomic strata use apps. Given the wide appeal of our model and potential of Hapu to connect families and providers of all backgrounds, there is an opportunity to promote socioeconomic diversity within FFN child care shares. Research shows that all children benefit from mixed income child care settings.

Innovation: What makes your concept innovative? (5000 characters)

The child care sector in the U.S. is in desperate need of reform and is ripe for disruption. The current system of licensed care—while critical to setting children’s foundations for learning and supporting workforce capacity—is not equipped to meet all families’ needs. Creating enough slots to serve all children needing care would require a vast influx of funding, facilities, and human capital. Beyond the shortage of available slots, licensed care is unable to meet the financial, scheduling, location, and language needs of many families. The question is not how to expand the system of licensed care in its current form, but rather how we supplement existing ECE infrastructure with alternative solutions. Despite the limited capacity of the licensed care sector, children do not go without care. As D.W. Winnicott said, “There is no such thing as a baby. There is a baby and someone.” Similarly, there is no such thing as a child without child care. It may not be in a licensed setting, and it may not be an ideal arrangement, but the reality is that someone is providing care for every child. Whether it is enlisting the help of a relative, paying a neighbor, or staying home themselves, parents find a way to “make it work” while they work. Although they may not be formally recognized or self-identify as such, those who care for children as FFN providers are part of the ECE field. What if we tapped into the capacity of this “hidden” sector of the workforce and supported FFN providers in reaching their full potential as effective caregivers? The sharing economy has revolutionized other industries by leveraging existing assets to increase supply and drive down costs. By offering the use of their homes and cars to others, Uber drivers and VRBO owners have created more options for places to stay and ways to get from here to there, while at the same time earning extra income for themselves. In the same manner, an FFN provider already caring for at least one child can open their home to additional children, thereby creating more child care options for families. Child care shares also create micro-economies of scale, reducing costs for families and increasing FFN providers’ financial stability. We recognize that finding a vacation rental for the weekend does not have the same ramifications as entrusting someone with the care of your children. Therefore, an essential part of this model is promoting the quality of FFN care by offering appropriate supports and resources. Unfortunately, FFN providers rarely receive training in ECE and often primarily focus on providing a safe place for children rather than supporting their cognitive, language, social–emotional, and physical development. As a result, quality in these settings is often low. For example, children in FFN care watch more television and videos compared to children in licensed child care settings. However, most FFN providers report an interest in learning how to better support children. Thus, there is great potential to transform the current perception and function of FFN providers as “babysitters” charged with keeping children safe to “brain builders,” capable of shaping children’s development and learning. This project embodies the spirit of innovation not only in its unique approach to reimagining the child care landscape, but also in its application of technology for social good. Although technology has the potential to isolate and distance people, the use of technology in this model focuses on building interpersonal connections and strengthening relationships. When parents access FFN care, they are tapping into their social network. The Hapu app increases a family’s social capital by expanding their social network beyond their existing circles. Parents can forge important relationships with providers and other families, enriching their pool of social resources for themselves and their children. Hapu also gives FFN providers a key set of business tools, allowing them to offload marketing, enrollment, and financial services. This allows providers to focus on what matters most—building relationships with children and families. CSPC will use technology in an innovative way to expand the impact of the PASO program. The online delivery method will allow the program to reach more providers by transcending scheduling and geographic constraints. At the same time, the training will be carefully crafted to maintain the relationship-based elements that have been identified by research as key to successful professional development. For example, a hybrid approach might combine online learning with one-on-one sessions such as home visits to FFN providers (in-person or virtually). A virtual learning community could be created where participants can interact with a live instructor and a cohort of other participants. These adaptations maintain PASO’s emphasis on supporting FFN providers through meaningful connections with trainers and other learners

Scale: Describe how your idea could reach a significant number of end-users. (1500 characters)

Hapu’s product design and design thinking approach, while focused on connecting families and creating new solutions in child care, is fundamentally built upon managing risk and liability. The focus on sharing costs places Hapu in the FinTech (financial technology) space, providing Hapu an agile framework with which to scale globally. Hapu’s automated cost-sharing functionality reduces costs while raising wages. This innovation positions Hapu as a unique enterprise in the market with great brand and marketing benefits. Barriers to scaling are investigating and funding the examination of legal risk and liability per marketplace. CSPC is currently evolving its business model to maximize effectiveness and efficiency of PASO. In 2018, CSPC will implement the first eight PASO Institute sites, with cohorts of 25 providers per site, doubling the number of participants compared to previous years. This model will improve cost efficiency, increase participation rates, and engage bilingual participants interested in becoming ECE professionals. The next phase of development is exploring the trans-creation of the PASO curriculum to a high-quality online learning format with the idea of expanding reach by accommodating a wider array of FFN provider learning styles and scheduling needs while at the same time gaining cost efficiency in training delivery. As PASO expands to reach a wider range of providers, CSPC may investigate alternative funding models such as a sliding scale tuition system.

Feasibility: Where are you with understanding the feasibility of your idea? Describe what you’ve done so far and your plans. (3000 characters)

Hapu’s team consists of a dedicated product manager and offshore development team that is well-integrated into the business with equity and ongoing arrangements for continuing collaboration. The team is well-versed in design thinking and agile methodology and have an established framework for defining feature releases and designing user experience flows and user interface. Rigorous quality assurance procedures are engaged before any feature releases. As Hapu looks to expand to the U.S., we will seek further financial support with our partners to continually evolve the product based on user interaction and feedback. CSPC is a well-known institution that has been empowering those who care for young children for nearly 40 years. Their staff includes a Director of Operations, a Director of Program and Fund Development, administrative support, and a cadre of Program Tías (PASO trainers). Since 2006, CSPC has trained 455 FFN providers. The new PASO Institute model expands capacity to efficiently deliver training to more FFN providers. Grant funding would support the next step in expanding the model, the trans-creation of the PASO training curriculum into a high-quality online experience. This process will maintain the integrity of PASO content while adapting it to a format that meets the learning and scheduling needs of more providers. We will explore hybrid approaches that blend relationship-based professional development with technology-based learning. For example, a mixed-delivery system would combine online learning with face-to-face professional development such as home visits to FFN providers. An online platform could be used to create a virtual learning community where participants can interact with a live instructor and other participants. The Policy Equity Group will serve as the “backbone” organization, facilitating coordination between Hapu and CSPC and guiding the overall vision and strategy. Policy Equity Group staff are experts in ECE practice, funding, and policy and are experienced in convening stakeholders to solve complex problems. Policy Equity Group will ensure there is an “enabling context” to support the work of Hapu and CSPC, identifying other relevant partners, building public will and awareness, collecting and synthesizing feedback from end-users, advancing policy efforts, and mobilizing additional funding to support this work. The collaboration among partners will be characterized by mutually beneficial relationships and work toward a common goal. CSPC can use its extensive network of PASO alumni and current trainees to connect FFN providers to Hapu, and will be an invaluable source of input in terms of user needs and feedback about technological, logistical, and design challenges. In turn, CSPC can offer Hapu to PASO participants as a tool to expand their earning potential and build child care shares, thus expanding the number of children who will benefit from providers’ increased knowledge, skills, and education.

Business Viability: How viable is your business model? (5000 characters)

CSPC and Hapu each completed a business model canvas, synthesized here to discuss the overall viability of the proposed project. As the backbone organization, The Policy Equity Group will be the grant recipient and subgrant funds to CSPC and Hapu. Customer Segments: Currently, PASO primarily serves low-income, Latina FFN providers in multiple Colorado counties. Hapu serves parents and informal care providers (typically nannies) in Australia. The proposed project will focus on FFN providers and parents in Colorado. Value Proposition: Our project provides structures for currently amorphous, informal processes. Currently, parents’ FFN options are limited to their existing social circles, problems (such as late pick-ups) are addressed arbitrarily, and there are no formal payment systems. Hapu helps parents and providers connect, establish a child care share, and automatically transfer funds. Most FFN providers are untrained and lack access to professional development. PASO trains providers as experts in ECE. The online training will reach more providers by reducing scheduling and geographic constraints. Our work will improve the quality, access, and cost of child care for families while also increasing the professional capacity and earning potential of FFN providers. Channels: PASO is promoted through community events, local organizations (e.g., schools, churches, libraries, family resource centers, health clinics); media outreach (e.g., radio, newspaper, television); neighborhood flyers; and word of mouth. Hapu uses public sharing and direct sharing where users broadcast postings through their own social networks. We will leverage existing channels in addition to cross-promoting the two organizations and using our HCD research to understand what other outlets are effective for reaching potential users. Customer Relationships: PASO is a high-touch program with ongoing relationships with Tia coaches/trainers. During home visits and orientation, PASO staff build rapport and explain the program and advantages of involvement. Relationships are maintained through ongoing home visits and training sessions. The online program would keep many of these high-touch elements through coaching visits (in-person or virtual) and an online instructor. The on-boarding of providers to Hapu during PASO training would provide an extra layer of contact to users. Revenue Streams: CSPC is funded by a combination of government contracts, foundation grants, and program income (i.e., tuition fees from participants). Hapu’s business model is based on a revenue share with providers, where a booking fee is applied to every financial transaction. Growth is supported by a private investor. As we engage in our HCD process, both organizations will explore alternative business models. Hapu may consider a subscription model. As PASO expands their reach, CSPC may investigate a sliding scale tuition system (e.g., a well-resourced family might cover their nanny’s fees at a higher price, which would offset the cost of a lower tuition or scholarship for a low-income provider). Key Activities: As part of this grant we would engage in a comprehensive HCD process to better understand the needs of our users and how we can support them in creating affordable child care shares in high-quality FFN settings. This process will also inform the design of the online PASO curriculum and support modifications to Hapu for the U.S. context. Key Resources: CSPC has already developed and tested the curriculum modules that will be trans-created into an online format; has staff with expertise in program development, community outreach, and operations; and has an existing network of qualified Tias/trainers. Hapu brings the virtual infrastructure of the app, staff experienced in UX/UI design, and a designated development team. Policy Equity Group staff has deep knowledge of the ECE landscape, including policy, pedagogy, and finance, and a rich network of connections to policy, funding, and other partner organizations. Key Partners: Policy Equity Group staff have strong relationships with state and national organizations (e.g., Colorado Office of Early Childhood, early childhood councils, Early Childhood Colorado Partnership, Child Care Aware of America) and funders. CSPC has a deep network of local partners (e.g., schools, churches, local government, libraries, funders, non-profits, community leaders, FFN providers) that will be critical for HCD process work and outreach for both PASO and Hapu. We will be seeking additional partners to create the online curriculum and will seek consultation from other entities with products in a similar space as Hapu. Cost Structure: PASO expenses include salaries and benefits, business overhead, staff development, office services and supplies, and training expenses (e.g., materials, food, child care for participants). Hapu’s primary costs are continuous product improvement, marketing, and public relations

HCD: How have you used human centered design to build or refine your concept? (5000 characters)

CSPC and Hapu have engaged in extensive efforts to better understand their users’ needs. CSPC has conducted meetings with local stakeholders, focus groups with FFN providers, and surveys of parents and community members. Results indicate a high level of interest in additional supports for FFN providers, with specific emphasis on ongoing training with a coaching component. Many current PASO participants have inquired about business tools and how they might start a child care collective (similar to a child care share). Parents have also called CSPC, seeking a directory of PASO graduates because they are interested in finding a provider who has undergone high-quality training. There appears to be a strong degree of demand for FFN training opportunities and supports that would facilitate the creation of child care share arrangements. Hapu is well-versed in HCD and has an established framework for defining feature releases and designing user experience flows and user interface. In preparation for the launch in the U.S. and partnership with PASO, the Hapu development team has already begun work on modifications to meet the needs of new target users. For instance, the team is exploring solutions to ensure the app is available in other languages (e.g., Spanish) and is compatible with U.S. banks. Exploratory work has also uncovered issues such as determining that users without social security numbers or bank accounts would be unable to use the financial transaction features of Hapu. This initial groundwork provides key information that has helped define a viable target audience and their needs. The next step is to employ an HCD process to drive the three big goals of the project: 1) launch Hapu in the U.S., 2) develop an online PASO training program, and 3) support users in jointly experiencing Hapu and PASO to maximize project impact. To guide the HCD process, we developed a series of experience maps (see Figures 1–3) to chart key moments for FFN providers and parents as they interact with PASO and Hapu, including: 1) Awareness: Do users know about the program? What form should our “highway signs” take to reach the maximum number of potential users? 2) Engagement: What does it take to get a user to “merge” onto our road? How do we design “on-ramps” that facilitate enrollment? 3) Fidelity: Does our model follow the “route” of positive change we expected? How do we prevent “wrong turns” and unintended negative outcomes? 4) Stickability: How do we facilitate users’ continued journeys and sustained engagement? What does it take for this new path to become a well-traversed route that turns into an automatic habit? Each moment on the maps represents a specific user behavior or action. As such, our maps are informed by behavior change theory, which posits that three elements must converge for a behavior to occur: motivation, ability, and a trigger (something that prompts, facilitates, or reminds us to do an action). We pose key questions related to these elements that would affect the likelihood of a user engaging in the desired behavior (e.g., enrolling in PASO). Building on these maps is a framework of metrics of success (see Figure 4), representing milestones that will help us determine whether our project is on-course for achieving expected outcomes. The experience maps will guide our engagement of FFN providers and parents in the design process. For example, as we seek to refine our target audience (particularly for users that would use both Hapu and PASO), we would speak with a wide range of potential users (including “extremes and mainstreams”), from different backgrounds and demographic groups to gauge interest and needs. Through group interviews and surveys, we will use HCD methods to answer questions posed in our experience maps. For example, we might use a card sort activity to better understand what factors are most important to parents in choosing a child care provider (e.g., proximity, cost, training, background check, schedule). This information would directly inform how features are designed in Hapu. We would invite interested individuals from our initial stakeholder engagement efforts to be “anchor users,” a select set of users willing to test prototypes, pilot Hapu and the online PASO training modules, and eventually champion the model in their communities. Design thinking will be employed to ensure an “enabling context” to support the project’s success. The Policy Equity Group will lead efforts to engage partner organizations such as online training developers and community outreach partners. They will mobilize additional funding and support Hapu and CSPC as they develop sustainable revenue and scaling strategies. Efforts will be made to advance policy in supportive directions, such as facilitating access to child care subsidies and streamlining licensing processes for interested providers. We will create a Project Roadmap establishing a timeline, tasks, and key milestones.

Tell us more about you (3000 characters)

Kelly Etter (The Policy Equity Group) has spent her career in ECE as a teacher, psychologist, researcher, and policy specialist. After having her first child, she was confronted with the same challenges as many parents—year-long waitlists; costs outside her means; and the desire to know her daughter was safe, but also receiving high-quality care. Despite being a fierce champion and advocate for the formal ECE system, she could not find a child care center that was a good fit for her family. Fortunately, Kelly’s mother could provide care; her mother also happened to have 40 years of experience as an ECE teacher and director. Reflecting on her family’s privileged situation, Kelly wondered, “What if all parents had the option of placing their child in the care of someone they know and trust, while also knowing this person was equipped with the skills and knowledge to offer quality early learning experiences?” At a conference, Kelly learned about PASO, whose work builds the capacity of FFN providers. A Google search for “child care, sharing economy” led her to Hapu, whose ability to improve child care access and affordability was the perfect complement to PASO’s emphasis on quality. The pieces of the vision to address the trilemma of child care were in place; the Early Childhood Innovation Prize was the ideal opportunity to bring these pieces together. Ben Marr grew up with ties to the Maori tribal culture through his grandmother, a prominent matriarch in the Ngati Rangithi tribe of New Zealand, and to the modern world of his father, a prominent art director in Australia. From an early age, Ben sought to marry the two worlds, seeing strengths in tribal values and the potential of modern technology to connect people. Hapu, a Maori word meaning both “tribe” and, fittingly, “pregnant” is the result. Just as a tribe has set rules and protocols, Hapu helps families and providers co-create child care shares with clearly defined rules, roles, and transparency around money. Hapu enables people to work together to raise their children in an embodiment of the maxim that it takes a village to raise a child. The “it takes a village” philosophy is also deeply woven into CSPC, founded in 1980 and led by parents and educators engaging in a grassroots movement to empower families to become their children’s advocates. The PASO program honors all those who care for children and these caregivers’ supports as an extension of the “family” that is collectively raising the next generation. Indeed, PASO trainers are referred to as “Tías”, or “aunties”. FFN providers are trained using a cohort model, where providers progress through training together, building a community of learners and a sense of professional belonging and identity. Our concept brings together three organizations from around the world to use the age-old principles of community, family, and tribal thinking to solve modern problems and set the foundation of success for our next generation.

Do you have the people and partners you need to do what you’ve described? (600 characters)

We have the core partners in place but will need to connect to our end-users through a robust outreach strategy. Previous research with parents and FFN providers suggests the most effective outreach methods are delivered by “trusted messengers”, like respected community members or anchor community institutions (e.g., health care clinics, libraries, faith communities, social services agencies). Other potential partners include the Early Childhood Colorado Partnership, Colorado Office of Early Childhood, early childhood councils, the Denver Area Nanny Association, and Parent Possible.

As you consider your next steps, what kinds of help could you use? Is there a type of expertise that would be most helpful? (1800 characters)

Although the core components of Hapu and PASO are well-established, each organization is seeking to expand the reach and impact of their models by taking their current work to the next level. As these organizations push the boundaries of their existing practices, these development efforts will require input and expertise from a larger ecosystem of innovators. Hapu’s next “leap” is to launch its innovation in the U.S., building out its team, capability, and reach. This will involve significant effort in terms of understanding and addressing the issues of legal risk and liability in this new marketplace. Other developers who have created products and apps similar to Hapu may have valuable insights and resources to offer to our team in this area. The CSPC’s “leap” is to take the PASO program to the next level by expanding their training delivery options through the development of high-quality, technology-based learning opportunities. While the PASO curriculum content is well-established, this material will need to be trans-created into the “language” of online learning, while maintaining the content and intent of the training. We will be seeking a partner that is well-versed in design thinking and creating online learning opportunities that adhere to best practices in adult learning and instructional design. Finally, both Hapu and CSPC are seeking to develop innovative business models that take into account the needs of their users—FFN providers and families—while at the same time ensuring the financial health and sustainability of their organizations. We would benefit from greater collective brainstorming in this area.

Would you like mentoring support?

  • Yes

If so, what type of mentoring support do you think you need? (1200 characters)

We are strongly invested in seeing the success of this model come to fruition. We believe that this can only be achieved by examining our ideas through a critical lens and flexibly adapting our thinking. Often those best able to identify potential barriers and unintended consequences come from an outside perspective. We seek a mentor who will challenge our ideas and push us to continue innovating. We are also interested in infusing principles of design thinking, behavioral economics, and implementation science into our work. We believe that these frameworks are useful in translating words and ideas on paper into the complex realities of application. Our team would benefit from a mentor who has a background in one or more of these areas.

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  • Yes, share my contact information

[Optional] Biography: Upload your biography. Please include links to relevant information (portfolio, LinkedIn profile, organization website, etc).

Dr. Kelly Etter is Vice President of Early Childhood Equity Initiatives at the Policy Equity Group. Dr. Etter is an expert in the field of early childhood education and seeks to improve child outcomes by building the capacity of adults who work with and on behalf of children. She uses her experience in early childhood classrooms and systems to promote the latest innovations in science and policy while giving voice to the needs and challenges of those on the ground.

Mentorship: How was your idea supported? (5000 characters)

Our team had a very productive session with our mentor, Wayee Chu with Reach Capital. One of the most valuable suggestions she made was to see this opportunity as a chance to engage in further research, development, and testing of our concept rather than launching into full implementation. She recommended identifying a small group of FFN providers and parents who might serve as anchor users. This group will be an invaluable source of detailed feedback and insights as they pilot the Hapu + PASO experience and can later serve as champions of the model within their communities. Wayee also opened some additional doors to us in terms of resources to conduct secondary research. She encouraged us to explore the marketplace to better understand any models that have analogous aspects to ours and learn from their challenges and successes. Wayee directed us to AngelList (, a list of international start-ups including a few in the child care sector that share some similarities with our model (e.g., Trusted, CareGuide, myBestHelper, Sitter). As we move forward, we will reach out to relevant organizations to learn more about their approaches. We will also engage in a similar exercise to explore the universe of online ECE training programs, particularly any designed for FFN providers. Upon recommendation from Wayee, we also reached out to a contact at Wonderschool, a start-up in San Francisco that supports experienced educators and child care providers in starting their own in-home licensed care programs. Although the emphasis on licensed care and providers already trained in ECE differs from our concept, the Wonderschool model also seeks to create alternative pathways to improve the quality, cost, and access of child care. An interesting difference between the two models is the degree of oversight and flexibility and the resulting balance between user choice and quality control. For example, Wonderschool requires all providers to have certain qualifications and go through a vetting process before being accepted into the network, thereby setting the parameters of the pool of available providers. In contrast, within our model, parents set their own priorities around what constitutes quality care and meets their needs. Similarly, Wonderschool requires all providers to obtain licensed in-home care status (in part because of other states’ laws around FFN care), whereas in our model providers can choose whether or not it is a good fit for them to pursue licensing. Moving forward it will be critical to monitor whether this model with more flexibility is effective in balancing parent/provider choice with quality and availability of care. Other considerations highlighted by our Wonderschool contact include the degree of “touch” provided to users and how that changes as an organization is scaled; awareness of users’ comfort with technology and access to internet in rural areas; and challenges in finding the “right teachers in the right places” to ensure that local supply meets local demand. The mentor experience was critical in helping us hone our idea and how we talk about it, set realistic expectations for implementation, and see how our idea fits into a broader context of solutions.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Iliriana Kacaniku

Hey Kelly,

Welcome to the Early Childhood Innovation Prize. We're thrilled to host your idea and help it grow through our human-centered design toolkits. I found your idea of launching a proven multisided platform that connects parents and FFN child-care providers very interesting. It sounds a very practical solution that can make both economic different for the FFN's, convenience for parents, and development opportunities for children. Since you state that you are currently piloting the technology, I became curious to learn on where and with whom you are piloting it, how do you identify parents and chid-care providers for children 0-3 that need to benefit from your solution, and what is the feedback you are receiving from the participants? It would be interesting to hear the feedback you are receiving and how is it guiding you to adapt the Hapu solution to the local Westminster, CO market. On this note, feel free to check our User Experience and Feedback Toolkit ( for it may provide you with insights on components and values that may respond better to the local market needs.

Would love to hear your thoughts.

Best regards,

Photo of Kelly

Hi Iliriana,

Thank you so much for your thoughtful read of our idea and your team's work to put together this amazing opportunity for the field of early childhood . Your questions are great ones and very much on our mind right now. First, we'd love your guidance as to how to appropriately respond to the question about the stage of our proposal. Our idea involves bringing two well-developed models together. PASO--the FFN training program-- has been operational for 10+ years. Hapu--the app connecting providers and parents--is fully operational in Australia, but we are looking to bring it to the U.S. and implement it in tandem with PASO. Thus, while both components of our idea have been separately implemented, we have not yet piloted them together (Hapu + PASO). Would love your thoughts on whether this situation would be better described by "Research & Early Testing" or "Prototyping".

That being said, we are actively working to understand what this collaboration will look like in practice. We are in the process of scheduling some focus groups (hopefully next month) with current and past PASO trainees to understand if/how they might use Hapu and what some of the potential challenges might be. For example, PASO trainees are predominantly Spanish-speaking, Latina FFN providers. We want to better understand what obstacles there might be affecting providers' likelihood of using Hapu, such as comfort with technology, issues of undocumented immigrant providers, and access to bank accounts for the financial transactions element of Hapu. We hope to hold other focus groups with families to understand their needs and challenges. We have also begun conversations with the Hapu development team to explore what modifications might be need to made for launch in the U.S. (e.g., Spanish-language adaptation, banking systems, legal/liability issues).

Additionally, we are planning to engage other groups who might be valuable partners in promoting Hapu and PASO such as the Early Childhood Colorado Partnership, Colorado Office of Early Childhood, Denver Area Nanny Association, Parent Possible, county social services agencies, family health care providers, libraries, museums, and family resource centers.

We are hopeful that through a robust stakeholder engagement process we can better meet the needs of the families, providers, and children. The toolkits that OpenIDEO has developed have been incredibly valuable resources and we look forward to utilizing them in our continued efforts to evolve this project.

Thank you again for your engagement with our idea and please let us know if you have additional thoughts, questions, ideas, or guidance!


Kelly and the PASO, Hapu, and Policy Equity Group Team

Photo of Kristina

Being the parent of now slightly older children (my youngest is now 5) I would have loved to have access to something like this a few years ago. I do have one question (and I apologize if this was outlined above and I overlooked it) - how will we know that "family, friends and neighbors" are suited to watch children? Clearly average daycare providers go through extensive training - and I am not suggesting that these people would do that. But surely there needs to be some type of screening or training process?

Awesome idea!

Photo of Kelly

Hi Kristina,

Thanks so much for your question! We absolutely agree that providing high-quality care and education for young children takes a special set of knowledge and skills. One of our partners, the Colorado Statewide Parent Coalition, provides an intensive professional development program for FFN providers that offers training in child development; how to establish a safe, healthy learning environment; how to support children's cognitive, social-emotional, physical, and language development; engaging in positive and productive relationships with families; ensuring a well-run, purposeful program; and maintaining a commitment to professionalism. The training is delivered through institutes/seminars and through home visits with a mentor who provides coaching and helps providers apply what they learn in their classes. This training program is aligned with and helps providers apply for a Child Development Associate (CDA) degree. Providers also gain access to a developmentally appropriate early childhood curriculum and materials and guidance to convert an area of their home into a high-quality learning environment.

We hope that this focus on quality, coupled with Hapu's innovative approach will enable more families to access affordable, high-quality care options.

Thanks again for your question and please let us know if you have any other thoughts, questions, or ideas!