Re-envisioning Child Care to Work Better for Children and Parents

October 27, 2016
Young boy playing in a park

Mark Greenberg, Acting Assistant Secretary, Administration for Children and Families

Rachel Schumacher, Director of the Office of Child Care

The nation is turning a page in the history of child care. On September 30, the Administration for Children and Families issued rules to update requirements for the Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF).  This was the first comprehensive update of the rules since 1998. The CCDF is the primary source of funding for child care for low-income families and to improve the quality of child care for all children. CCDF provides $5.7 billion to states, territories, and tribes to administer. It is authorized by the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) that was reauthorized by Congress with bipartisan support in 2014. The law and rule usher in a new era for this block grant, raising the bar for health and safety standards, and requiring states to provide more stable access to child care assistance for qualifying families.

The 2014 reauthorization and our new rules reflect a major shift for child care subsidy policy in the United States. When Congress last enacted major child care legislation, it was as part of the 1996 overhaul of welfare law. Child care was seen by many primarily as a work support — a necessity to realizing goals for welfare reform, with a strong focus on how much child care funding was needed to help states help parents meet welfare work requirements. And, consistent with the welfare provisions of the 1996 law, the child care provisions largely emphasized state discretion, with minimal federal health and safety requirements or investment in improving quality of child care.

Soon after the passage of the last set of CCDF rules, we first met and began working together at the Center for Law and Social Policy, where we collaborated on policy research for over a decade.  When Congress initially tried to reauthorize child care legislation in 2002, there was no consensus on the need to strengthen health and safety and child care provisions, and much of the discussion was still dominated by questions about child care needed for welfare reform efforts; ultimately, the reauthorization didn’t go forward.  

In 2014, Congress had a much different discussion about the purposes of the child care program and the need for basic foundational standards and expectations for how states, territories, and tribes administer the program. Now, promoting child development, involving parents in the development of their children in child care, and increasing the number and percentage of children in high quality child care are key purposes of CCDF. And basic health and safety protections, such as background checks and training for child care staff in first aid/CPR, medicine administration and SIDS prevention, will be standard across state lines. Responding to over a decade of research on the importance of stable caring relationships to child development, the law and rule require that child care assistance be provided for no less than 12 months so long as families meet federal requirements for income and activities.

Across the country, states, territories, and tribes are on the path to making these important changes, and ACF is committed to supporting their success. During our national training on the new rule, we congratulated them on what they have already implemented since the passage of the law, and lauded their efforts to build the child care system of the future.

The new CCDF rule will have a real impact not only on the 1.4 million children served each month in CCDF, but on all children in child care, whether or not they’re receiving federal subsidies. When fully implemented, this law and rule will:

  • Strengthen protections of the health and safety of children in child care
  • Help parents make informed consumer choices and access information to support child development
  • Require States to provide equal access to stable, high-quality care for low-income children
  • Enhance the quality of child care and the early childhood workforce

The law and regulations very much envision that the needs of children and parents should be considered together in the administration of the child care program. Stable, safe, and affordable child care is critical to keeping working families on the pathway to economic well-being and children on the road to school readiness.

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