Blog

By Marsha Basloe, President of CCSA

If any issue warrants public attention, public discussion and rethinking as to the best way to ensure families with young children have access to child care and pre-kindergarten, it is our nation’s current approach to the safety and healthy development of young children. It’s not a system as much as a patchwork quilt stitched together over decades. The federal government allocates funds to states through individual programs or funding streams (i.e., block grants), each with different rules, administered by different state agencies, and too often resulting in siloed approaches with little to no coordination or collaboration among state agencies, departments, divisions or communities.

In December 2019, Congress enacted the FY2020 Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Appropriations measure, which included the following funding levels for early care and education programs:

Source: FY2020 non-defense consolidated appropriations bill (HR 1865, PL116-94) enacted on December 20, 2019.

In addition to the funding above, in FY2019, the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture allocated $3.7 billion to states to support healthy meals and snacks for low-income children in child care centers and family child care homes [1] and the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services allocated the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant to states, of which states chose to use $3.8 billion for child care and $2.6 billion for state pre-K. [2] The number of children served by TANF funds for child care or pre-K is unknown because the federal government only requires aggregate spending to be reported, not how many children are served, the setting children are in (homes or centers, licensed or unlicensed) or the average price paid per child. In all, that’s more than $35 billion through various federal funds for early care and education programs.

Child care is the largest early childhood program with $12.5 billion in funding and yet only about 17 percent of eligible children (based on state standards) receive a subsidy. [3] Many states have a waiting list for assistance, including North Carolina with a waiting list of more than 40,000 children. Families have a difficult time finding care, affording care, and then many parents express concern about the quality of care. Numerous national reports have been released about child care deserts, communities where the need for child care for parents of children under age 6 pales in comparison to the licensed supply of child care. [4] The U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services released a report in October 2019 that found the supply of home-based care has declined by more than 97,000 providers since 2005. [5]

Why? Child care is a business. Child care centers tend to operate in areas where the population is dense enough with sufficient numbers of private-pay families who can afford weekly parent fees. The operating budget for child care centers largely comprises parent fees and therefore staff is hired at the lowest wages possible to hold costs down. In a good economy with low unemployment, like we have today, turnover is high because staff often can find better-paying jobs in fast food, retail sales or other jobs that require less training or education. Turnover also costs businesses because of the marketing, interviewing, hiring and training required for new staff.

For home-based providers, the hours are long and the pay is low. According to a 2019 economic impact report by the Committee for Economic Development, [6] the average annual income of home-based providers is approximately $15,000 per year, [7] 18% higher than in North Carolina, where the average income of home-based providers is $12,300. [8] The decline in home-based providers (who often serve infants and toddlers) is a hardship for parents, particularly those in rural communities where the economics of operating a center don’t work. Home-based care is often less expensive and providers may be more willing to stay open during nontraditional hours for those parents who work shift work or have long commutes to their job. Yet, again, wages drive interest in opening a home-based program (or closing one) because other jobs in the community may pay more with fewer hours and less stress.

The reality is that mothers are working today. Nationally, approximately 72 percent of mothers with children under age 6 are working outside of the home, [9] 65.4 percent of mothers with children age 2 are working [10] and, 57.8 percent of mothers with children under age 1 are working. [11] Many of these mothers need child care, but federal subsidies reach only one out of every six eligible children. Therefore, most families are forced to afford whatever they can find. However, in too many communities, the supply is not available, let alone affordable.

There is no doubt that if our nation’s early care and education system were designed today, it would look much different. If we can’t think out of the box about a new bold system to better meet the needs of families with young children, we will be stuck with incremental, minor band-aids that ignore the real problem: the system is under-financed and poorly designed. Parents can’t afford quality child care, but we know from the research that high-quality child care really matters to the healthy development of children, particularly in the earliest years as a child’s brain is developing the fastest, setting the architecture for all future social, emotional, physical and cognitive skills. [12]

Two decades ago, child care was a work support. Today, we know that it is a two-generation strategy. High-quality child care helps parents work and helps support the healthy development of children. In fact, parents who can’t access child care reduce their hours or drop out of the workforce. About 94 percent of those who involuntarily work part-time are mothers who cite child care problems as their reason for working part-time. [13]

In 2018, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) released “Transforming the Financing of Early Care and Education,” which reviewed the multiple funding streams for early care and education and made a number of recommendations. The NAS Committee, made up of early childhood experts and finance experts, recommended investing in early care and education at a percentage of U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) aligned with the average of other member nations of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The report recommended increasing funds in four phases, from at least $5 billion in phase one to $53 billion in phase four. [14]

However, it is not just about the money. It is also about program design and meeting the needs of families in urban and rural areas and in an array of settings that best meet the needs of the family and each individual child with an early education workforce that is trained and paid appropriately for the important work they do. 

Rethinking is always a bit more challenging than staying in the box with patchwork fixes. The current system isn’t working for low-income children whose families need a subsidy or the private market where working parents need access to affordable high-quality child care and early education programs. It is time for a discussion about a redesign.


[1] U.S. Department of Agriculture, Child and Adult Care Food Program, January 2020. https://fns-prod.azureedge.net/sites/default/files/resource-files/ccsummar-1.pdf

[2] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Family Assistance, TANF expenditures FY2018. https://www.acf.hhs.gov/ofa/resource/tanf-financial-data-fy-2018

[3] U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), Child Care: Access to Subsidies and Strategies to Manage Demand Vary Across States, 2016. https://www.gao.gov/assets/690/681652.pdf

[4] Center for American Progress, https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/early-childhood/reports/2018/12/06/461643/americas-child-care-deserts-2018/; Child Care Aware of America, https://www.childcareaware.org/our-issues/research/mappingthegap/.

[5] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Center on Early Childhood Quality Assurance, 2019. https://childcareta.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/public/addressing_decreasing_fcc_providers_revised_final.pdf

[6] Committee for Economic Development of The Conference Board, Child Care in State Economies: 2019 Update. https://www.ced.org/childcareimpact

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] U.S. Census Bureau, Table S2301, Employment Status, 2018 American Community Survey, 1 Year Estimates.

[10] U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Table 6. Employment status of mothers with own children under age 3 years old by single year of age of youngest child and marital status, 2017-2018 averages.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Harvard University, Center on the Developing Child. Brain Architecture. https://developingchild.harvard.edu/science/key-concepts/brain-architecture/

[13] Committee for Economic Development of The Conference Board, Child Care in State Economies: 2019 Update. https://www.ced.org/childcareimpact

[14] National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, Transforming the Financing of Early Care and Education, 2018.  https://www.nap.edu/catalog/24984/transforming-the-financing-of-early-care-and-education

By Marsha Basloe, President, Child Care Services Association

Families with jobs and secure housing access child care through our country’s Child Care Resource & Referral network, friends and family and the internet.  Without child care, families experiencing homelessness struggle to secure housing. And yet, for these families, accessing child care offers two important benefits—the chance to be able to participate in job training, education, and other programs essential to resolving their homelessness and the opportunity to have a safe setting for children to grow!

Research has established a strong connection between a young child’s early experiences and the development of his or her brain structure. According to the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, the early years of life when more than 1 million new neural connections form every second, can provide a strong or weak foundation for all future learning, behavior and health.[1] We know that homelessness jeopardizes the health, early childhood development and educational well-being of infants, toddlers and preschool-aged children. It also creates unique barriers to participating in early care and education. With nearly 50% of children living in federally-funded homeless shelters under the age of five, this is a problem for families, communities, states and the country.

The Child Care and Development Block Grant Act of 2014, signed into law on November 19, 2014, reauthorized the Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) Program. The reauthorized law made significant advancements by defining health and safety requirements for child care providers, outlining family-friendly eligibility policies, and ensuring parents and the general public have transparent information about available child care choices.

The Administration for Children and Families (ACF) published the Final Rule to implement the Child Care and Development Fund program (CCDF) in September 2016. The full regulations may be read here.

The Rule included many items designed to remove barriers and better support young children and families experiencing homelessness. (CCDF Final Rule: Subsidy Eligibility and Homeless Provisions) It included:

  • The McKinney-Vento Act’s education definition of homelessness to be used by child care (and Head Start and public education), 
  • A grace period or flexibility to obtain immunizations and other documents needed so that  children experiencing homelessness can be served more quickly,
  • Outreach to homeless families with children,
  • Training and technical assistance in identifying and serving homeless children and their families,
  • The coordination of services so that families with children can get the help that they need, and
  • Data reporting to know how many families (and children) experiencing homelessness are receiving child care assistance.

States submitted 2016-2018 CCDF Plans and excerpts from Section 3.2.2., Improving Access to High Quality Child Care for Homeless Families, within State Plans were shared here. The state plans for 2016-2018 indicated that while many states had policies in place to help families experiencing homelessness access child care assistance, the majority of states were not yet adequately addressing those families’ unique needs.

The Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) Plan serves as the application for the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) funds by providing a description of, and assurance about, state child care programs and related services available to eligible families. The Office of Child Care reviews the Plans for approval.

The CCDF Plan also presents an opportunity for states to demonstrate the activities and services they are providing to meet the needs of low-income children and families. The Administration for Children and Families (ACF) makes Plans publicly available to many users including members of Congress, Congressional committees, State and local child care administrators, advocacy groups, researchers and the general public. For states looking for innovative ways to better meet the child care needs of families experiencing homelessness, the publication of the state plans serves as a clearinghouse of resources for states to replicate or customize to finetune their strategies to best support these families.

The 2019-2021 CCDF State Plans show that States have embraced the CCDF law and regulations with regard to serving families experiencing homelessness, making changes to policies and practice, including eligibility requirements, coordinating with partners, increasing access and providing professional development for those within the child care field to not only increase access to child care but also to ensure that families with children experiencing homelessness receive the support and services they need. These State Plans can be found here.

View other resources for early childhood homelessness here.


[1] Harvard University, Center on the Developing Child, Brain Architecture.

Written by Jennifer Gioia, CCSA Communications Manager

In October 2016, Michelle Roach received a call on a Tuesday morning—she would be fostering Jordan, a 6-day-old baby. “I wasn’t really prepared for actually searching for [child care],” Michelle said. “I’m a solo parent, so it was a big adjustment to do that, and as soon as he came into the home, we had a clock ticking. We had eight weeks at home with him and then he needed to find somewhere to go during the day.”

Parents often need a place to start as they begin their child care search. This is where Child Care Services Association’s Child Care Referral Central comes in. Child Care Referral Central is a trusted resource for families looking for child care, helping them find care based on their needs and providing information and resources at their request.

“We are in a unique position to link families, child care providers and the community together, so that parents can get all their child care answers in one place,” said Christy Thalheimer, referral manager at CCSA’s Child Care Referral Central.

“By going to Child Care Services Association, it really did allow me to have one place where I could ask my questions,” Michelle said. “I could get more information about both center-based [child care] but also family-based [child care]. I was able to sit down with a counselor and talk about what resources I had available to me, the subsidy through [the Department of Social Services] and what was available in the community.”

CCSA’s referral counselors can walk a family through all their child care options at each age of their children. From infant care to after school care, CCSA’s Child Care Referral Central can provide the tools families need to find the right child care for their children.

Often people see child care resource and referral programs (CCR&Rs) as only available to families who are most at risk due to poverty or special circumstances. While the Department of Social Services (DSS) offers a Child Care Subsidy program that uses state and federal funds to provide subsidized child care services to eligible families, finding the right child care is an important piece of the work-life puzzle for every family, no matter their income. Community members often ask if services are only for those in financial need, but CCSA’s Child Care Referral Central is available to every family in the nine-county area of Alamance, Caswell, Durham, Franklin, Granville, Orange, Person, Vance and Wake counties.

Silvana Rodriguez was Michelle’s child care counselor at Child Care Referral Central. She has been a counselor for more than seven years.

“[Michelle] walked into the office…and then told me that she was a first time parent, she was going to receive an infant and she was nervous about the whole process,” Silvana said. “So, I answered all of her questions. She had several questions about the types of care, the differences between them, and then I did a [customized] search for her based on [her work and home addresses]…We talked about national accreditation and what to look for, and then after that, we made a package for her with all the different information that may be useful for her.”

“One of the things, it was so small but it helped me so much, was that all of that information was placed in one packet and handed to me,” Michelle said. “In the chaos of my life of having a newborn and figuring everything out, having this one place I could go back to with all the phone numbers and all the information about ratings and other really helpful things in one spot made something that could have been really overwhelming more manageable. I was able to periodically when I had the time, make phone calls, set up tours and narrow down where he ended up going between two really high-quality centers. I picked one that was closer to my work, and I was really happy with the results from that.”

Silvana loves helping families like Michelle’s.

“That’s the thing that drives all us counselors because you can see the results when you follow up with them, and especially when they find a great quality place, and just going through their options and helping them navigate everything in terms of finding child care,” Silvana said.

“[CCSA’s Child Care Referral Central] made the already challenging process of being a solo parent and figuring out the process of DSS and foster care, and also just the challenge that every parent faces when they have to go back to work, which is that you’re leaving your tiny human being with other people, to really make that easier and to make me feel better about that process and more comfortable with him being there and knowing that he would be cared for in a reputable space,” Michelle said. “I didn’t have the pressure of having to Google or guess. I had all that information in one spot, and for me, that really made all the difference.”

Jordan turns three at the end of next month. He’s is “graduating” from Early Head Start and will transition over to another classroom in the same center mid-August. Michelle has thought about reaching out to CCSA again to speak with a counselor about more child care options. “I’m hoping to participate in the Universal Pre-K program next August,” Michelle said.

You can hear more about Michelle’s story by watching the video below.

To continue supporting the operations of Child Care Services Association and crucial programs such as the Child Care Referral Central, please donate today.