Quality Improvements for Child Care Cross the Finish Line

Blog Post
Oct. 24, 2016

Last month, the Obama Administration pushed quality improvements for child care across the finish line with the release of the final Child Care Development Fund (CCDF) Rule, which shortly followed the announcement of the new Head Start Performance Standards. Both of these changes in regulation are two of the last moves the Administration will make to help advance safety and quality in the early care and education field for millions of our nation’s youngest children.

The Child Care Development Block Grant (CCDBG) Act enables the use of CCDF federal subsidies for low-income families that qualify and child care providers who serve these families. CCDBG was reauthorized in 2014 for the first time in eighteen years. The final rule has allowed for much-needed regulation updates to help improve child health, safety, and development in a system that had remained stagnant for almost two decades.

So what’s in the final rule? Here are some of the highlights:

Raising the health and safety requirements: The new rule helps to reduce the varying quality among child care providers by setting minimum requirements for health and safety. These requirements are aligned to some of the new Head Start regulations. For instance, comprehensive background checks and health and safety trainings for child care staff are now aligned between these two federal programs.  

Also required is monitoring of licensed and license-exempt providers who are receiving child care subsidies. States must conduct a pre-licensure inspection for all licensed CCDF providers. States can only exempt those providers receiving subsidies who are serving family members.

Helping families make informed choices about child care: States are required to provide families with accurate, clear, and up-to-date information on the quality of child care providers. For instance, states must publish the annual number of deaths, serious injuries, and instances of substantiated child abuse that occurred in child care settings. In addition, the results of the child care monitoring inspections will be published in a consumer-friendly and easily accessible format. And in states with a Quality Rating Improvement System, child care provider ratings will be made available. This transparency can help families to better navigate the child care market and make more informed decisions about the care of their children.

States are also charged with helping families connect to other information about developmental screenings and to public assistance programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).  

Improving continuity of care for children and their families: Maintaining stability and access to child care is vital for families. Now, that these new regulations are in effect, the eligibility periods for families and their children have been extended to a minimum of twelve months. The extended eligibility period will help families have access to their same provider for a longer period of time, helping children to form close bonds with their child care teacher.

Reevaluating subsidy reimbursement rates: In 2014, only two states’ reimbursement rates were equal to or above the 75th percentile of the market rate. The new rule has states re-evaluate their reimbursement rates more frequently taking families and providers views into account. For instance, when states set reimbursement rates for providers, they are now required to take the cost of quality into account and listen to feedback from the public in the determination of the rate. In addition, states will have to use valid methodologies updates the rates at least every three years. New America’s From Crawling to Walking highlighted the importance of bringing reimbursement rates more inline with market rates for child care.      

Enhancing the overall quality of the early education and care workforce: With the release of this new rule, the Administration for Children and Families makes the case that child care workers are teachers, emphasizing that all adults who interact with young children can support their early learning and brain development. Child care teachers on average spend 39 hours with kids, with the majority of those children being under five-years-old. These are critical times in children’s first years of life and because child care teachers play such an influential role, they must understand and be able to translate child development research into practice.

States are now required to have trainings and professional development for child care teachers and providers receiving federal subsidies, prioritizing those who serve in communities with high-concentrations of poverty and unemployment. In addition, over a five-year period states will be required to increase the proportion of their funds spent on quality from 4 to 9 percent. The new rule also pushes states to recognize the importance of the first three years of a child’s life by setting aside an additional 3 percent of funding for quality improvement of infant and toddler care, meaning over time states will be required to direct 12 percent to quality.

The Office of Child Care will be providing states with ongoing technical assistance and support to help them implement these new regulations. In the coming year, check back here for updates on how states are implementing the new CCDF regulations, particularly on quality improvement.