All Our Kin is extremely excited about the strides Connecticut has begun to make in improving early care and education, and about the heightened national conversation about the enormous impact of a child’s early experiences. And yet, a fundamental component of early care, child care subsidies, has until now been left out of the conversation about how to improve access to and quality of early care in the U.S.
The Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) is the primary funding stream for child care subsidies in the country, serving over 1.6 million low-income children per month. In Connecticut, the CCDF takes the form of Care4Kids, Connecticut’s child care subsidy program for working parents whose income is under 50% of the state median income.
In “Obama’s Early Education Proposals Leave Federal Efforts Fragmented and Incoherent,” Chris Herbst discusses his study on the impact of CCDF-funded child care subsidies on preschool-aged children’s health and development. Sadly, the research shows that receipt of CCDF child care subsidies is associated with worse health and developmental outcomes for low-income children.
“Why does the CCDF fail to promote child and family well-being?”
- Parents do not have enough information to distinguish between low- and high-quality providers, giving child care providers little incentive to make costly quality investments.“Parents receiving CCDF-funded subsidies [read: low-income parents] are therefore victims of and unwitting accomplices to the information gap in the child care market: their choices are restricted primarily to low- to mediocre-quality providers, and the inability to make informed decisions only exacerbates the quality problem.”
- CCDF is a labor market policy, created in service of welfare reform legislation aimed at solving the “problem” of low employment rates among single mothers. “At best, the CCDF is a blunt instrument with which to boost mothers’ employment… the CCDF may have unintended effects… that are harmful to child well-being. For example, if parents lose eligibility for subsidies whenever they become separated from a job, such instability could undermine child development by severing productive child-teacher relationships and exposing children to comparatively low-quality care while the parent is looking for work.The work requirement is also problematic for child care providers: those relying heavily on subsidized children may experience revenue shortfalls when parents lose eligibility, thereby reducing the incentive to make costly quality improvements.”
- Low reimbursement rates. While CCDF purports facilitating parental choice and equal access, and recommends states set reimbursement rates at 75% of market rate, most states set rates much lower.“This… prevents families from purchasing high-quality child care; it also reduces resources available to child care providers to make costly quality enhancements.”Connecticut, for example, has not raised reimbursement rates in over ten years.
The subsidy system’s flaws that Herbst describes are precisely the barriers that impact the family child care providers engaged with All Our Kin and the 72% of children and families they serve that qualify for child care subsidies. With rates so low, low-income parents must choose the most affordable option for their children, often family child care. As Herbst describes, these providers, who run their programs based on wages set over ten years ago, lack funds necessary improve the quality of their program. The result? Children of low-income parents lack the positive early experiences we know are so crucial throughout life, and family child care providers, in their efforts to serve the families that need them most, are left with dismal wages and few supports to improve their program quality.
But, through our work, we know that the care children on subsidies receive does not need to be “restricted primarily to low- to mediocre-quality providers.” By providing the very professional development and training that family child care providers need to make quality improvements, All Our Kin strives to ensure that all children, regardless of how much money their parents earn, have the positive early experiences they need to be successful in school and life.
The providers that engage in training with us are motivated by a desire to serve children and families better, and by their passion for early childhood. They work each day to provide quality care with limited resources, in the absence of financial incentives or even the promise of a fair wage. This must change. Child care providers of all kinds deserve to be paid for a job well done, deserve compensation for their efforts to be nurturing, responsive caregivers. Incentivizing quality in early childhood through fair wages and rewards is critical if we are to truly support the workforce that holds future generations in their arms.