Friday, May 24, 2013

Ensuring access to quality child care is a smart investment

Affordable, high-quality child care is of tremendous importance for working families. In most families, all of the adults work outside the home and 32.9% of children under five receive regular child care from non-relatives. Early childhood is a critical phase for a child’s brain development; a stimulating, supportive environment is important for all children, and quality child care is important for children’s health, well-being and readiness for school. Research shows that high-quality child care can have positive impacts on a child’s life in a number of ways - including higher educational attainment and lower rates of social problems.  Further, the benefits of high-quality child care extend beyond childhood well into adulthood.  

With so many working families relying on care outside the home, access to affordable, high-quality child care is not only important for children’s well-being, it is important for national economic productivity. Research  suggests that access to quality child care has a positive impact on parents’ productivity by reducing absenteeism, tardiness and lack of concentration at work. Through reforming child care assistance programs and establishing thorough regulation of child care facilities, policymakers can play an important role in ensuring that more children in working families have a healthy start. 

However, despite the importance of high-quality child care, finding care at an affordable cost is often very difficult for working parents. According to the Center for American Progress, child care for an infant costs more than tuition at a public college in most states; many low-income families spend about half of their income on child care. Even once parents find an affordable child care provider, the quality of care may be very low. Not all states require that child care providers be trained or have background checks. Even licensed providers are not monitored in some states. The lack of quality childcare is a problem that is widespread.  According to Child Care Aware of America, child care programs provided by the Department of Defense for military families scored the highest in their 2013 Child Care Aware rankings of state program requirements and oversight, receiving a ‘B’ grade. 10 states received ‘C’ grades in the rankings, while 21 state programs received a grade of ‘D’ and a shocking 20 states received failing grades. 
Proposed regulations to improve the quality of child care
To address the issue of the low quality and high cost of child care for working families, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) released proposed regulations on Monday for child care providers receiving Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) program subsidies. The proposed regulations include changes in four key areas:

            “(1) improving health and safety in child care;

             (2) improving the quality of child care;

             (3) establishing family-friendly policies; and

             (4) strengthening program integrity.”

The new regulations would add requirements for child care providers to:
o   undergo background checks;

o   have their facilities inspected for compliance with state and local health, fire and building codes;

o   receive health and safety training on topics such as first aid and CPR; and

o   be monitored by the states through unannounced, on-site visits.

Under these new regulations, states would still have the option of exempting relatives and caregivers in the child’s home from some or all of the CCDF requirements so that caregivers such as a child’s grandparent or in-home babysitter are not required to meet the same requirements as a child care center or other professional provider.
Many parents assume that child care providers are already required to meet basic standards similar to those outlined in the proposed regulations.  According to a 2010 survey conducted by Child Care Aware of America (formerly the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies), most parents believed that some or most child care providers were already required by law to be trained, licensed, background checked and monitored by the state.  However, in reality regulation of child care providers varies greatly state-to-state; some states already have some requirements similar to the proposed regulations in place, while others have far fewer requirements. Parents may find it difficult to get reliable information about the quality of their child care options. To remedy this, the new regulations aim to provide parents with more information about child care providers’ track record on health, safety and licensing as well as the qualifications of the caregivers. States would develop child care information websites and maintain a hotline for parent complaints about child care providers.
Many eligible families not receiving child care assistance
One notable provision in the proposal is the establishment of a 12-month period for re-determining a family’s eligibility for assistance and allowing parents who lose their job to remain eligible for a period of time while searching for work. Under the current regulations, parents in some states immediately lose eligibility if they lose their jobs, making it difficult for parents to schedule interviews or follow up on potential job opportunities as they arise. Under the proposed regulations, states would have more flexibility to minimize requirements in order to help eligible families benefit from the program.
Currently, most low and middle-income families have to pay all their child care expenses out of pocket, including most of those who are eligible for CCDF benefits.  While estimates of participation have increased in recent years, most families who are income-eligible for child care assistance do not receive the benefit and those that do typically receive it for less than a year.  The Department of Health and Human Services estimated that in 2009 only 18% of potentially eligible children received subsidized child care. According to the proposed regulations, “[c]urrently, most families receiving CCDF-assistance participate in the program for only 3 to 7 months, and many are still eligible when they leave the program. Parents often find it difficult to navigate administrative processes and paperwork required to maintain their eligibility and State policies can be inflexible to changes in a family's circumstances.” The proposal includes coordination with other programs serving low-income families, which would be used in an effort to reduce the administrative work involved for both parents and state agencies so that a larger number of eligible families receive needed child care assistance.
With research drawing the link between quality child care and healthy outcomes for children, parent productivity and national economic productivity, supporting quality child care is a good investment for states. State policymakers may wish to consider how current regulations in their state compare with the regulations proposed by DHHS and ways that they might advance their work to make child care safer, healthier and more enriching. State policymakers could also consider how to streamline access to child care assistance to ensure that eligible families are able to benefit.
For more information on ways that policymakers can promote the well-being of children and families, please visit and watch for our upcoming results-based policy report on state strategies to support early healthy development.  Check-out CSSP’s Strengthening Families work and our Protective and Promotive Factors Framework to learn more about research-based, cost-effective strategies to in­crease family strengths, enhance child development and reduce child abuse and neglect.

No comments:

Post a Comment