2018 Virginia General Assembly: Time to Address Child Care Safety

It’s January and for many states that means that State Legislatures are convening.  For a list of start dates for all state legislatures, check out the National Conference of State Legislatures’ list here.

Virginia’s State Legislature was sworn in January 10.  Because it’s an even numbered year, the General Assembly will meet for 60 days (which is considered the “long” session).  In odd numbered years, the General Assembly meets for 30 days.How a bill becomes a law

During the 60 day period, VA Senators and Delegates will review many bills with a very small percentage of bills that are introduced making it through the full process to become law.

Child Care Aware of Virginia is working with parents throughout the state to support legislation to promote the safety of children in child care.  Nearly 400,000 children under age 6 in Virginia have working parents, which means that on any given day, children may be in some type of child care setting.

All parents want their children to be safe in child care. In Virginia, there are two challenges faced by parents statewide:

  • Under state law, 14 categories of child care are license-exempt, which means no background checks for child care providers and no minimum provider training requirements for health & safety.  Since these are group care settings that do not occur in a residence, parents often do not find out that the program is unlicensed until a serious injury or death occurs.
  • Under state law, no one operating a child care business out of her home is required to have a license unless 5 unrelated children are in the home.  This means that in many areas of the state, particularly rural areas, parents have difficulty finding licensed care.

On January 3, 2018, four public hearings were held throughout the state. A number of parents and grandparents testified about the need to strengthen child care safety.  For example,

Elly Lafkin testified on behalf of her 3-month-old daughter, Cami, who died in a home-based child care program in Shenandoah.  When Cami died, the police investigated. A fingerprint-based background check was conducted on the provider. To the surprise of the Lafkins’, the provider had five alias names and was on felony probation at the time of Cami’s death. Elly urged legislators to not allow a fingerprint-based background check requirement to expire in July when it is scheduled to sunset.

Belle Colassaco testified on behalf of her toddler, Noah, who died in a home-based program in Chesterfield.  The provider had placed a 32 pound metal crate on top of the portable crib so that Noah would not stand up and instead lay down and take a nap. Noah died of accidental asphyxiation when his head became entrapped between the dog crate and the crib railing. Belle urged legislators to reduce the licensing threshold so that more home-based providers would have the health and safety training to keep children safe as well as pass legislation to promote the safety of children in license-exempt child care.

Herman and LuAnn Allen testified on behalf of their one year-old grandson, Joseph, who died as a result of a fire that occurred in an unlicensed child care home in Richmond.  The provider had lied to the Allens and told them she didn’t need a license because she only cared for a few children. In reality, she was caring for 10 children. She didn’t have working smoke detectors, a fire alarm, a fire extinguisher, an emergency evacuation plan, or even a list of children in her care.  The Allens urged legislators to figure out why Joseph’s Law was not working – prosecutors are not charging illegal providers who circumvent the law (those who should have a license but don’t) with a felony when a child dies. The Allens cited a provider in Virginia Beach who was charged with a misdemeanor despite the death of a 4 month-old girl while she was caring for 17 children and a provider in Chesterfield who was charged with a misdemeanor despite the death of a 3 month-old boy while she was caring for 16 children.

Dilyara Daminova testified on behalf of her 3 month-old baby, Olivia, who died in an unlicensed child care home in Arlington.  Olivia was placed to sleep in her snow suit, face down, on a mat on the floor. At 3 months old, she couldn’t turn over and the snow suit became a straight-jacket. The medical examiner’s report found that Olivia had 4 broken back ribs and internal bleeding, which likely occurred when the provider performed CPR incorrectly.  Dilyara urged legislators to reduce the licensing threshold in child care homes so that providers would have the training in CPR and safe sleep practices that could have saved Olivia’s life.

Child Care Aware of Virginia testified at all 4 public hearings (Richmond, Loudoun, Virginia Beach, and Radford) to urge legislators to:

  • Not let the current fingerprint-based background checks expire in July
  • Reduce the child care home licensing threshold
  • Address the safety of children in license-exempt care, and
  • Revise Joseph’s law if necessary so that illegal providers will be charged with a felony when a child dies

To date, 18 child care bills have been introduced in the 2018 Virginia General Assembly. The two primary committees with jurisdiction over child care safety are:

It’s time for Virginia legislators to support working parents. Of the few bills that will make it into law this year, those protecting the safety of children in child care will hopefully be among them. Children should not be left to chance.

Tax Reform: Access to Child Care for Working Families

Congress appears close to agreeing on a budget resolution, which will include instructions for the Senate Finance Committee and House Ways & Means Committee to approve tax reform legislation. For working families with young children, it’s important to look beyond the leadership framework announced in September and ask about the details.

Nearly 15 million children under age 6 live in families with working parents. Many of these parents struggle with child care costs.1

kids under 6 with working parents pie chart

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

The average annual cost of center-based care for an infant is $10,476; the average annual cost of center-based care for a preschool-age child is $8,469.2  The average annual cost for infants in home-based care is $7,669; the average annual cost for a preschool-age child in home-based care is $6,967.3  Historically, the tax code has helped make child care more affordable for parents. The rationale has been that working parents with young children need child care in order to obtain and retain employment and employers depend on working parents.

The current Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit (CDCTC) offers working families with child care expenses a modest credit in recognition that child care is an expense related to work. Although child care costs have increased over the past 16 years, the value of the credit has not been increased since 2001.  Among families with children who benefit from the CDCTC, taxes are reduced by an average of $551.

Another policy in the current tax code that helps families with child care costs is the provision that allows employers to offer Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs), which enables employees to set aside up to $5,000 per year tax-free to be used for reimbursement of child care expenses. In 2014, 39 percent of civilian workers had access to a dependent care FSA.

The tax reform framework as proposed by President Trump and the Congressional leadership simplifies the tax code by lowering tax rates. It doubles the standard deduction (currently $6,350 for single individuals and $12,700 for married couples).4 However, it eliminates personal exemptions (currently $4,050 for each taxpayer, his or her spouse, and each child – currently indexed annually for inflation).5  The framework says that the Child Tax Credit (which is available for families with children under age 17)  will be “significantly increased” – but it doesn’t say by how much and it doesn’t mention any income tax breakpoints that may apply (i.e., at what income level households would receive the full significant increase (whatever amount it is) and at what income level it would be phased out).

Although the framework does not pay for itself (i.e., the expected revenue loss over 10 years is about $1.5 trillion), lower rates are achieved (at least in part) by eliminating credits and deductions not mentioned in the framework. The child care related provisions in the current tax code are not mentioned and therefore fall into the bucket of potential tax policy to be eliminated.

For working families with young children, tax policy that helps support their need for paid child care is important. Some families may not need paid child care. However, many families depend on it. For those families with child care costs, the current child care provisions in the tax code should be updated, not discarded.

As tax reform is debated, and pro-growth strategies are supported, it’s important to understand that jobs require working parents. And, many working parents of young children need paid child care. Senator King (I-ME) and Senator Burr (R-NC) introduced legislation last January (S. 208) to update both the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit and Dependent Care Flexible Spending Plans.  It’s time to dust that bill off the shelf and recognize that updating the child care related provisions in the tax code should be part of the tax reform discussion. These provisions are specific – families must have qualifying children, must be working, and must have child care costs.

Increasing the child tax credit for families with children younger than age 17 (as the framework outlines)  is good policy.  It helps partially offset the cost of raising children. However, it is not specifically related to whether a family with young children has child care expenses.  There is a cost to raising children, all families know that. However, it is even more expensive for families who have child care costs. That’s why retaining and updating the child care provisions in the current tax code is important.

1U.S. Census Bureau, Table B23008, Age of Own Children Under 18 Years in Families and Subfamilies by Living Arrangements by Employment Status of Parents, 2016 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates.

2Child Care Aware of America, 2017. Parents and the High Cost of Child Care: 2016 Update.

3Ibid.

4U.S. Congress Joint Committee on Taxation, The Taxation of Individuals and Families, JCX-41-17, September 12, 2017.

5Ibid.

 

2015 Year in Review

Early Childhood Program Year End Wrap Up          

As we come to a close in the calendar year, it is clear that 2015 marked enormous progress on the early learning initiative front!

Congress passed the FY2016 Consolidated Appropriations ActCartoon Capitol

The FY2016 Consolidated Appropriations Act (PL 114-113), enacted on December 18, included an increase of nearly $1 billion for programs operated through the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) — primarily for the Child Care and Development Block Grant and Head Start.

What’s in the Consolidated Appropriations Act for early childhood?

Matching Budget Information with Context:

For more information on the most recent data for CCDBG program statistics (number of children receiving assistance, settings those children are in) and for information about TANF funding used for child care by state, click here.

Early Head Start/Child Care Partnerships: The FY2016 Consolidated Young woman playing with boyAppropriations Act included $635 million for EHS/CCPs. This means that previous grants will continue to receive funding and $135 million in additional funding will be available for a new competition. Stay tuned for competition criteria and proposal deadlines in 2016. Current awards finalized in March of 2015 are here.

Preschool Expansion/Development Grants: The FY2016 Consolidated Appropriations Act included $250 million to continue another year of funding for current grantees.

Every Student Succeeds Act and Preschool Development Grants

On December 9, the President signed the Every Child Succeeds Act into Pre schoollaw (P.L. 114-95), which reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act- also known as the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law. The Every Child Succeeds Act includes many opportunities to better integrate early learning initiatives with K-12 education, including a new provision authorizing Preschool Development Grants. This new competitive grant program is designed to assist states to:

  • develop, update or implement a strategic plan to improve collaboration and coordination among existing early learning programs in a mixed delivery system across the state to prepare low income children to enter kindergarten ready to succeed;
  • encourage partnerships among Head Start providers, state and local governments, private entities (including faith and community based organizations), and local educational agencies, to improve coordination, program quality, and the delivery of services; and
  • to maximize parent choice among a mixed delivery system of early childhood education program providers.

The Secretary of HHS is in charge of the program to be operated jointly with the Secretary of the Department of Education. Watch for more details about the competition for funding in 2016.

Child Care and Development Block Grant Reauthorization Implementation:

November marked a year since the President signed the bipartisan CCDBG Act of 2014 into law. During that year, much progress has been made to promote more parent choice among high quality settings in every community.

CCDBG State Plan. In order for states to receive federal funds, each state must submit a state plan to HHS. The template for the state plan was published for public comment three times in 2015 (in January, in May, and in September). In December, the final state plan template was published.

Creative kids class

Many states have begun drafting their state plans, which are due on March 1, 2016. Some states have held public hearings already. HHS regularly posts updates on state plan public hearings under Key Resources Related to the Implementation of the CCDF Reauthorization Law.

CCDBG Regulations. On December 24, HHS published proposed CCDF regulations in the Federal Register. Public comments with regard to the proposed regulations are due on or before February 22, 2016. The regs play a key role in ensuring that states have a uniform interpretation of the law.

Head Start:

In June, HHS proposed the first major revision and reorganization of the preschool boy green shirtHead Start Performance Standards, which were open for public comment for several months. The proposed program performance standards will improve the quality of services, reduce bureaucratic burdens, and improve regulatory clarity and transparency. They provide a clear pathway for current and prospective grantees to provide high quality Head Start services and to strengthen outcomes for the children and families served. Read the proposed revisions and watch for final regulations in 2016.

Also Noteworthy for the Early Childhood Field: (Released in 2015)

Happy New Year! Wishing you all the best in 2016! We have come so far in 2015. 2016 will be the year to close the gap between research, policy, and practice… The opportunity is yours. Seize the day!

Reducing Poverty Requires a Two-Generational Strategy

On September 17, the U.S. Census Bureau released new poverty data for 2014.2014 Census Poverty Report

For the fourth consecutive year, the number of people in poverty was not statistically different from the previous year’s estimates. See “Income and Poverty in the United States: 2014.”  In 2014, the official poverty rate was 14.8 percent – 46.7 million people living in poverty.

Children in Poverty

The poverty rate for children under age 18 was 21.1 percent (far higher than the poverty rate for people aged 18-64 at 13.5% and the elderly (over age 64) at 10%).

For children under age 6, the poverty rate was 23.5% (5.5 million children).

  • 41.4% of African American children under age 5 live in poverty
  • 34% of Hispanic children under age 5 live in poverty
  • 19.7% of White children under age 5 live in poverty

More than half (55.1%) of children under age 6 in families led by a single mother were in poverty (while 11.6% of children under age 6 in married couple families lived in poverty).

What is the poverty threshold? For a single parent with 2 children, it’s about $19,073. To see a table of poverty thresholds by size of family, click here. To see the percentage of children under age 18 in poverty by state, click here.

Who is adult poverty highest for? Individuals without a high school diploma (where 28.9% live in poverty compared to 14.2% of those with a high school diploma, 10.2% of those with some college, and 5% for those with a college degree).

Why is that important? Because the reality today is that children from low income families are less likely to graduate high school. In fact, in some states, the gap is really quite large.

From a policy standpoint, we need better strategies to assist low income parents in getting a job and in getting a job with higher wages. The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program allocates funds to states to assist families, but over the past two decades, states have only spent a tiny fraction of the funds they receive to support work strategies for these parents. There is no question, TANF is in need of reform. The House Ways and Means Committee has held several hearings this year and in July released a discussion draft to revamp the program to be more effective.

Assisting parents is one strategy to reduce poverty. Another strategy is to stop the cycle of dependency by investing in children. What we know about families with young children is that they need child care in order to work. A few are lucky and may have relatives available, able, and willing to assist with child care. However, most families are not so lucky, particularly low income parents who cannot afford market costs for child care.  boy playing w blocks, verticle stock

Studies show that high quality child care makes a difference for all children, but particularly for low income children. One of the main goals of the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) Act of 2014 is to increase the number and percentage of low income children in high quality care. The message is clear: child care is a key work support for parents, however, it is also a setting that should promote the healthy development of children. For low income children, starting school ready to succeed can lead to an increase in the high school graduation rate of low income students (which is currently 15% below their more economically well-off peers).

Unfortunately, over the last couple of years, CCDBG has served fewer and fewer children. A few months ago, the FY2014 CCDBG data was released, which showed that 1.4 million children received child care assistance each month – a reduction of 48,800 children from FY2013. And, the 1.45 million children who received assistance in FY2013 was a reduction of 47,500 children from FY2012. Therefore, in the last two years alone, nearly 100,000 fewer low income children have received child care assistance.

We know families on welfare need child care in order to work. We know low wage working families struggle with the cost of care and that child care assistance enables them to access higher quality care than they otherwise would be able to access. Does the quality of child care that low income families have access to really matter? The research demonstrates that it does. The neuroscience reveals that brain development, the wiring for social and emotional development as well as cognitive development, is formed in a child’s earliest years.  black boy w abbacus, vertical stock

When the Census Bureau released the newest poverty data, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) said, “This data should be acceptable to no one…. Our current approach to fighting poverty, though well-intended, is failing too many Americans. Solving the poverty challenge will require us to go into poor communities, customize approaches based on people’s needs, and focus our resources on what produces results. Rather than just treating the symptoms of poverty, our goal must be to help people move from welfare into work and self-sufficiency.”

Chairman Ryan is right. Another year with no reduction in poverty is unacceptable. However, to reduce poverty, a “parent-only” strategy is only half the battle. We need to focus as well on the low income children in these families so that the path forward is not another cycle of poverty but a roadmap to complete high school college or career ready. The gateway to a new roadmap begins with high quality child care.

2014 Year in Review

Early Childhood Program Year End Wrap Up                 Young woman playing with boy

As we come to a close in the calendar year, one thing is clear: It was a banner year for quality child care and early learning!

Congress passed the FY2015 “Cromnibus”

The legislation includes 11 FY2015 appropriations bills, including the Labor, HHS and Education Appropriations bill, that fund most of the government through September 30, 2015 and a continuing resolution (CR) funding the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) through February 27, 2015. On Capitol Hill, the measure is referred to as the FY2015 “Cromnibus” – Continuing Resolution and Omnibus appropriations measure.

What’s in it for early childhood?

Miscellaneous federal budget information:

For more information on the most recent data for CCDBG program statistics (number of children receiving assistance, settings those children are in) and for information about TANF funding used for child care, click here.

Early Head Start/Child Care Partnerships: girl pigtails block table like legos

The FY2015 Cromnibus included $500 million for EHS/CCPs. This means that there will be sufficient funding for year 2 of the Early Head Start grants announced on December 10, but no funding for new applicants/new grants. To check out the list of preliminary award winners announced on December 10, click here.

Preschool Expansion/Development Grants: The FY2015 Cromnibus included $250 million for preschool development/expansion grants for year 2 of the awards announced on December 10. However, no new funds were provided for any new applicants/new grants. preschool report 2013

  • To see the score sheet (including state ranking of applications) for Preschool Expansion Grant applicants in RTT-ELCG states, click here.
  • To see the score sheet (including state ranking of applications) for Preschool Expansion Grant applicants in Non-RTT-ELCG states, click here.
  • To see the score sheet (including state ranking of applications) for Preschool Development Grant applicants, click here.
  • To see state applications, scores, and reviewer comments, click here.

 

Child Care and Development Block Grant Reauthorization (PL1113-186):

 On November 19, the President signed the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) Act of 2014 into law (PL113-186). The bipartisan measure marks the first time in 18 years that Congress has passed legislation to strengthen the quality of child care. teacher and kids circle time

Happy Holidays. Wishing you all the best in 2015! This is the year to close the gap between research, policy, and practice… The opportunity is yours. Seize the day!

Unlicensed Child Care Puts Children At Risk

The Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) is allocated to states to both assist families in affording the cost of child care and to improve the quality of child care (such as through training or other activities). In October, new state reported child care data was released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) with regard to the number of low income children in each state assisted through  CCDBG.  boy playing w blocks, verticle stock

Overall in FY2013, about 1.4 million children received assistance each month (about 47,500 fewer children in 2013 compared to 2012). The number of children receiving assistance is one part of the story. An equally important part of the story is the type of child care paid for by CCDBG.

In many cases, low income families who receive assistance are able to access quality child care that they would not otherwise be able to afford.  That’s good news for children who will be in a safe setting that promotes their healthy development. And, great news because research shows that high quality child care makes a difference for all children, but particularly for the school readiness of low income children.

What is troubling is that of the 1.4 million children receiving federal subsidies, about 15 percent (218,265) are in unlicensed care. This means that these children are in settings where little is known about the provider except that she receives a government check to care for low income children. In many states, these unlicensed providers are not required to have training, there are no minimum health and safety protections for children (or maybe there is a checklist that providers submit “self-certifying” compliance) and no inspections are required – unless there is a parent complaint.

In 11 states plus Puerto Rico, 25 percent or more of the children receiving a subsidy are in unlicensed care (Hawaii, Oregon, Alabama, Puerto Rico, Nevada, Illinois, Connecticut, Michigan, New York, Missouri, North Dakota, and Indiana).

unlicensed by percentage snapshot fy2013

In 18 states, of the children in unlicensed settings whose care is paid for through CCDBG, more than half of the children are with non-relatives.

Unlicensed NonRelative Care Declining FY2013

Why does it matter? Child care licensing serves to provide some minimum health and safety protections for children in child care. States may require minimum training for providers and an emergency plan in the case of a fire or simple things like working smoke detectors and a fire extinguisher. In the past month in Virginia, 3 babies have died in unlicensed at home child care programs where providers had no training for emergencies, no fire extinguishers, and no working smoke detectors.  For Virginia, 46 infants have died over the last few years in unlicensed care. In Missouri, more than 67 babies have died in unlicensed care.  In Indiana, 18 babies have died in unlicensed care. Maybe some of these children were on a subsidy, but we don’t know because current law does not require reporting of this type of data.

The death of any child is a tragedy. It’s an even greater tragedy when the deaths can be prevented. Licensing  serves to protect the health and safety of children. One would think that when taxpayer dollars are used to pay for the care of low income children, that the settings paid for would be safe. But, with unlicensed care, we just don’t know. What we do know is that unlicensed care poses risks to children since there are no minimum health and safety protections.

This week, the Senate will consider legislation to reauthorize (renew) the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG). The bill was approved by the House of Representatives on September 15.  If approved by the Senate this week, the measure will be forwarded to the President to be signed into law. The bill includes important new health and safety protections for children. It requires more accountability for state expenditure of federal funds.  But, most importantly, it will help strengthen the quality of child care in every state so that parents have more choices among quality settings.

Arkansas, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Ohio, and Wisconsin, choose not to use subsidy dollars to pay for unlicensed care.  For the rest of the states, the bill will require a review of the policies to protect children when the states allow funding for unlicensed settings.  The bill requires:

  • a comprehensive background check (a fingerprint check against state and federal records, a check of the state child abuse registry and a check of the state sex offender registry) for all licensed or regulated care and unlicensed nonrelative care where subsidies are used;
  • States that choose to use subsidies to pay for unlicensed care to publicly explain why such care does not endanger the health, safety, or development of children;
  • At least one annual inspection of all providers receiving a subsidy, including unlicensed non-relative care;
  • Minimum training on important health and safety topics like safe sleeping practices and training related to the social, emotional, physical, and cognitive development of children; and
  • States to report deaths in child care, differentiated by type of setting and whether the setting is licensed or unlicensed.  Requiring the collection of this data is not to be morbid, but to better inform states and HHS about any trends and training that might make a difference.

The bill does not require assistance to families to be used for licensed care. However, it does require states to ensure that if they choose to use taxpayer dollars in unlicensed care, that children are safe. Children should be safe in child care – whether that care is paid for by a subsidy or not.

Working Families Near Victory on Safe, Quality Child Care

On September 12, a bicameral, bipartisan agreement was announced on legislation to reauthorize the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), the federal law that allocates funds to the states to assist families with the cost of child care and to improve the quality of child care.  The last time that Congress reauthorized or made changes to CCDBG was in 1996 – 18 years ago. teacher and kids circle time

Much has happened since that time. Today, 74.7% of mothers with school-age children are working and 64% of mothers with children under age 6 are working. In fact, today, 57.3% of mothers with infants are working.  In today’s economy, mothers work to support their families.  Census Bureau data released on September 16 showed that the number of men and women working full-time, full year, increased by 1.8 million, suggesting a shift from part-year, part-time work status to full-time, year round work.

The fact of the matter is that mothers work. Working families, spurred by working moms, need child care in order to ensure that they can support their families.

In 1990, Congress passed the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG). The law was historic at the time because it offered modest child care subsidies to low income families to support their effort to work. The theory was that a work support was better than welfare support. In 1996, that concept was re-affirmed when CCDBG was reauthorized as part of welfare reform.

Today, 18 years after Congress last revised CCDBG, we have an advantage of better understanding the neuroscience behind child development and lessons learned from the deaths that have occurred in child care throughout the country.  Any child’s death is tragic, but it is even more tragic when it can be prevented.  And that’s the thrust behind the bicameral, bipartisan CCDBG bill. We can better protect children in child care, we can better promote their healthy development, and we can expect more accountability from states that accept federal child care funds.

The House of Representatives passed the CCDBG reauthorization bill on Monday, September 15. The Senate spent the remainder of last week attempting to get agreement to pass the measure. Despite the fact that the Senate approved similar legislation in March by a vote of 96-2, the body was not able to pass it by unanimous consent (UC) before adjourning Thursday evening, September 18.  Unanimous consent was necessary because there was not time before adjourning for lengthy floor debate. Therefore, there were about 30 bills that were approved by UC Thursday night, but not the child care bill.

Two Senators objected to passing the child care bill: Senator Coburn (R-OK) and Senator Toomey (R-PA). The CCDBG bill will be the pending business of the Senate on November 12 when the Senate reconvenes after the election. Hopefully, the measure will pass and be sent to the President for his signature into law.  While that is certainly good news, the delay is not without consequence.  On the surface, it may seem that a delay of 8 weeks is nothing after 18 years. That is true. However, at the same time, the delay pushes the bill into the next fiscal year which begins October 1.  For practical purposes, that means that states will have 3 years (instead of 2) to pass conforming measures to ensure that children are safe and that state policies are accountable as federal funds are spent.

The CCDBG bill is a bipartisan measure that will help support both the needs of working families and the needs of children.  Let’s hope that the Senate will pass this measure without delay in November.

For a summary of the bill, click here.
For a detailed comparison of current law with the provisions in the House passed bill (and pending Senate bill), click here.

Congress Reaches Bipartisan Agreement on Child Care!

On September 12, 2014, a bipartisan group of House and Senate leaders announced an agreement on legislation to reauthorize the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), which allocates funds to states for child care – to help families afford the cost of child care and assist states in improving the quality of child care. Pre school

While Congress generally reviews laws periodically to adjust them for new research, best practices, and to address any shortcomings not foreseen when bills are drafted (a process referred to as reauthorization,  which generally occurs every 5 years on average), it has been 18 years since CCDBG was last reauthorized in 1996. Much has been learned during the intervening years from the science of brain development to the child care policies within states.  For example, national studies have shown that most state child care policies are weak and the oversight of those policies is even weaker.

Legislation to reauthorize CCDBG was approved by the Senate in March.  The House held a hearing (also in March), to hear from experts about the need for quality child care. This summer, House Republicans and Democrats negotiated a reauthorization bill starting with the measure that was approved by the Senate. With adjournment expected soon this fall, House Education and Workforce Committee members, Chairman John Kline (R-MN), Ranking Member George Miller (D-CA), Rep. Todd Rokita (R-IN) and Rep. David Loebsack (D-IA) reached an agreement and negotiated a final bill with Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee members – Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA), Ranking Member Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Senator Richard Burr (R-NC).

At a time when Congress is polarized, and budget and international events, engagements, and threats are the focus of contentious debate on the House and Senate floor, it is just short of a miracle that a bipartisan, bicameral, group of leaders came together and reached an agreement on an issue that is critical for working families with children.

The fact of the matter is that working families need child care in order to get and retain a job. Children need a safe place to be and a setting that promotes their healthy development. The Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) reauthorization bill agreement, as announced yesterday, will both promote children’s safety and improve accountability for the expenditure of federal funds.  It also shows that Congress can come together in a bipartisan manner and in a manner that unites both the House and the Senate on behalf of children.  Kudos Representatives Kline, Miller, Rokita, and Loebsack and Senators Harkin, Alexander, Mikulski, and Burr!  Working families commend your initiative and dedication to push partisan politics aside and support good, common sense policy for children.

The measure is expected to be considered by the House and the Senate during the week of September 15.

Child Care and Development Block Grant Act of 2014

In Brief:  The bicameral, bipartisan, CCDBG agreement reached to reauthorize the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) improves the quality of child care by requiring basic health and safety protections for children whose care is paid for by taxpayer dollars.  The funds set-aside for state activities to improve the quality of care will require more accountability for the use of those dollars.  In addition, more emphasis would be placed on strengthening the child care workforce, the cornerstone of quality child care.

For a detailed bill summary, click here. 

For a copy of the bicameral, bipartisan press announcement, click here.

For a copy of the bill, click here.

More Accountability Needed: Child Care Aid by Race

May marks the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark Supreme Court decision that outlawed “separate but equal.”   In the decades since 1954, much as been done to integrate schools, boost performance rates among all children and close the achievement gap that is first noticed in kindergarten. As a nation, we’ve come a long way, but we have a long way to go.

The 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test scores of our nation’s 4th graders show that:

  • 21 percent of white 4th graders read below grade level;
  • 47 percent of Hispanic 4th graders read below grade level; and
  • 50 percent of African American 4th graders read below grade level.

Studies have well documented the school readiness gap when children enter kindergarten. African American and Hispanic children enter kindergarten below their white peers in reading and math related school readiness skills.

If we are serious about closing the achievement gap, we need to look at where children are before they enter school and strengthen the quality of early childhood settings. Most states now operate Pre-K programs. As studies show, Pre-K can make a difference.  But, Pre-K is not a panacea. The reality is, that most children are in some form of child care every week.  Given the hours that children spend in child care, and the age at which they begin child care settings, it is time to strengthen the quality of child care (for children age 4 and younger) to ensure that children start school ready to succeed and to close the achievement gap.

The Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) is the primary source of federal child care funding to states. More than 1.5 million children each year receive assistance through CCDBG. The split between white and African American children among CCDBG children assisted is about equal (43% of the children whose care is paid for with CCDBG dollars are white; 42% of the children are African American).

What we know from the most recent (FY2012) CCDBG data is: overall, about 256,241 children or 17 percent of the children whose care is paid for by CCDBG are in unlicensed care. While licensing requirements vary by state, little is known about the safety and quality of unlicensed settings – even if federal CCDBG subsidies are used to pay for it.  For example, there may be no training requirements for child care providers or only minimal training required – far below state licensing standards. There may be no health and safety requirements or only minimal requirements – far below state licensing standards. There may be no inspections or unlicensed settings may “self-certify” that they meet any state requirements (if they apply). Background checks for unlicensed child care providers receiving subsidies are mostly based on a name check, not a fingerprint check matched against state and federal records to prohibit those who might attempt to use an alias or circumvent a background screening system.

Unlicensed care does not mean illegal care. Some child care settings are license-exempt, which means that a state statute specifically exempts that category of care from licensing requirements. (For example, a state may specifically exempt “drop in” care, a child care setting in a mall designed to care for a child for a few hours on an irregular basis while a parent shops).  Some states do not license family child care homes until they reach a certain threshold of children. (For example, in 27 states, family child care homes are not required to have a license until they care for 4 or more unrelated children).

Why the attention to unlicensed care?   In 10 states, 30 percent or more of the children whose care is paid for with CCDBG funding are in unlicensed settings. (Alabama, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, and Oregon). For a table of CCDBG funded unlicensed care in all states, click here.  It may be that these settings are safe and offering quality care, but the reality is, we do not know.  What we do know is that minimum protections for children required by licensed care are not required.

In 18 states, 50 percent or more of the children whose care is paid for with CCDBG subsidies are African American.

Race Table Picture

The percentage of children under age 13 within each state in unlicensed care varies greatly. In Arkansas, the District of Columbia, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin, either no CCDBG dollars are spent on unlicensed care or 1 percent or fewer of the children whose care is paid for by CCDBG are in unlicensed care. Among the remaining states, the percentage of children in unlicensed care paid for by CCDBG varies from 72 percent in Hawaii to 2 percent in Georgia.

African American Children Under Age 5 in Unlicensed Care Paid for by CCDBG: What we know from the data is that for children under age 5, African American children are twice as likely to be in unlicensed care than white children (21.4 percent vs 11.8 percent).

Children Under Age 5 by Race

We know that the 4th grade reading test scores show that African American children are more than twice as likely compared to white children to read below grade level. We know that the school readiness gap is first noticed in kindergarten but does not begin in kindergarten. It’s time to bring more accountability to CCDBG funding to ensure that all children are in settings to promote their safety and healthy development.

There is much attention today to expanding Pre-K programs for 4 year-old children. That’s a great goal. However, the fact remains that for many children, child care is their early learning program.  From the research, we know that low income children are more likely to start school behind their more economically well-off peers. From a policy perspective, we know we have an opportunity with CCDBG dollars to ensure that low income children are in higher quality settings than they otherwise would be able to access. However, from the data, we know that nearly one-fifth of those who receive assistance are in unlicensed settings – settings that we know little about except that they are not required to have minimum protections for children.  And, from that same data, we know that African American children under age 5 whose care is paid for with a subsidy are twice as likely as white children to be in unlicensed care.

Sixty years after Brown vs Board of Education, we still have a long way to go. As we seek to close the achievement gap for students in K-12 schools, it is time to review the settings children are in before they start school. Our first step ought to be to review the settings children are in that are funded by taxpayer dollars. Licensed or unlicensed, are federal CCDBG dollars spent in an accountable manner? Are children, whose care is paid for with taxpayer dollars, in settings that are safe and that promote their healthy development?

It is troubling that given the plethora of research that underscores the importance and impact of quality child care on the school readiness of children, and particularly those at risk,  that  African American children under age five are twice as likely as white children to be in unlicensed settings.  If we truly care about school readiness, we can and should create more accountability for how our federal dollars are spent — for all children.

 

Child Care Quality Hearing Held by U.S. House of Representatives

On March 25, the U.S. House Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education held a hearing on child care quality. “The Foundation for Success: Strengthening the Child Care and Development Block Grant Program,” was a chance for the Committee with jurisdiction over our nation’s largest source of child care funding to review current policies and practice.

The expert panel at the hearing testifying and responding to questions from Members of Congress:

  • Paula Koos, Executive Director, Oklahoma Child Care Resource & Referral Association

    House Child Care Hearing March 25, 2014

    House Child Care Hearing March 25, 2014

  • Linda Kostantenaco, President, National Child Care Association
  • Dr. Olivia Golden, Executive Director, Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP)
  • Gloria Jarmon, Deputy Inspector General for Audit Services, Office of Inspector General, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Overall, the hearing focused on the affordability, availability, and quality of child care and the services funded under the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), the law that allocates funds to the states for child care. CCDBG serves about 1.5 million low-income children throughout the country and invests about $1 billion in activities related to the quality of child care (i.e., activities related to strengthening the workforce and the quality of child care programs, including basic health and safety protections for children).

The reality today is that most parents work. And, in order for families who have young children to work, they need to obtain child care. Finding and affording child care is not easy for parents and most find it a stressful process. The hearing highlighted the role of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies within the states to both help parents find quality child care and help child care providers offer quality child care.

Paula Koos, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Child Care Resource & Referral Association told policymakers about the unique role of child care resource and referral. She talked about the importance of consumer education so that parents can make informed choices when selecting child care. “ In too many communities today, child care is hard for parents to find, hard to afford, and too often of questionable quality. For low income parents, the task is even more difficult. There are more than 600 Child Care Resource and Referral agencies throughout the country, serving nearly every zip code, assisting parents in finding child care. They help make a stressful and chaotic process calmer and more understandable and help parents make better informed choices in child care. The reality is that there is a large gap between parent expectations and state policy.”

Ms. Koos told policymakers about the gap between parent expectations and child care policies within states. “Parents think that a child care license is some type of gold standard, in short, the state’s seal of approval in order to offer child care. Parents assume a license means that adults providing child care have had a background check and training specific to child care. Parents believe there are required health and safety protections for their children, and some expert does inspections to ensure compliance with laws and policies for child care. Parents also assume that all child care settings are monitored when, in many states, large numbers of providers are legally exempt from oversight.”

Paula Koos, ED Oklahoma Child Care Resource & Referral Association

Paula Koos, ED Oklahoma Child Care Resource & Referral Association

“Child Care Resource and Referral has worked with parents in Oklahoma for more than 30 years. We have eight agencies that serve families in all 77 counties to offer consumer education and referrals to help families make better informed child care choices. We do not make recommendations about child care programs to any family. However, we provide them with information so that they can make an informed decision that meets the needs of their family. Finding child care is a stressful time for parents and our services help to alleviate that stress.

Ms. Koos also told policymakers about the role that CCR&R plays with regard to strengthening the workforce – a key element to improving the quality of child care. “We offer training, technical assistance and consultation to providers. Training is provided in both child-related and business requirements. From guiding people who are thinking about launching a child care business, to assisting providers to offer the best quality of care for children, we offer many services.”

“Training is related to strengthening the quality of the workforce – the competence and skills of the workforce. Technical assistance has many forms, but one of the most important is to ensure that those who have taken a training can translate that training to effective practice. What we know from the research is that child to staff interaction is one of the most important factors in improving child outcomes. Just because someone has attended a training, does not necessarily mean that they can effectively implement what they have learned,” said Koos.

“Our agencies offer technical assistance or, TA, on the phone and on-site,” said Koos. One area of TA that she particularly urged the committee to consider is business related technical assistance. “There has been so much focus on child development, which we can all agree is extremely important, we often fail to recognize that almost all child care programs are a small business. In 2012, we commissioned a study, “The Economic Role of Oklahoma’s Child Care Industry,” which found that the state’s 4,100 child care programs represented a network of small businesses, many of which are women owned and operated, that generate nearly $500 million in revenue and provide employment for about 20,500 workers with earnings of $290 million annually,” said Koos.

“Child care is a business. Business related technical assistance can assist child care providers with operating more efficiently and effectively. When you think about quality programs, please think as well, about the ability of child care programs not just to offer trained and competent staff, but also to use sound fiscal and management practices, which are the foundation to quality programs and essential to their sustainability,” said Koos.

Ms. Koos told policymakers that Oklahoma does not have a perfect system, but rather, a system with a stake in the ground for safety, accountability, and quality. “It’s been 17 years without reauthorization of CCDBG. We have the research on state policies. We know from the research what can be translated to best practice for child care safety and child development. I believe it’s time to provide some minimum protections for all our children and to ensure that public dollars are spent in an accountable way,” said Koos. She urged the Committee to take action to:

  • Improve safety protections for children. Require comprehensive background checks for child care providers and volunteers who care for unrelated children. Set minimum health and safety protections for all providers who care for CCDBG subsidized children.
  • Strengthen the Child Care Workforce. Require those who work in child care to have at least 30 hours of pre-service training and 24 hours of annual training. These are the recommendations from pediatric experts (see the National Resource Center for Health and Safety, Caring for Our Children recommendations).
  • Enhance Monitoring. Establish that programs accepting children whose care is paid for by CCDBG should have an inspection prior to licensure and at least once annually.
  • Improve Quality. Increase the quality set-aside for activities related to improving the quality of child care.
  • Subsidy Rates. Child care is expensive. It is hard for most families to afford; it is not merely a challenge for families in poverty. Consider a study by the National Academy of Sciences to review the cost of child care and recommend ways to design a better system.

Ms. Koos told policymakers, “I understand and support the need for state flexibility; however, at the same time, there needs to be some minimum core health and safety protections for all children in child care in our nation.”

Paula Koos with Subcommittee Chairman Rokita

Paula Koos with Subcommittee Chairman Rokita

To view the video of the hearing or the complete testimony of the witnesses, click here.
To view materials Paula submitted for the Committee record, click below:

On March 13, the Senate approved a CCDBG reauthorization bill requiring background checks for child care providers, important improvements to promote the health and safety of children in child care, as well as more accountable monitoring practices. The House is expected to draft similar legislation in the coming months. The House Education and the Workforce full Committee Chairman, Representative Kline, was in attendance at the hearing and spoke positively about the need to improve the quality of child care. This could be the year that Congress passes CCDBG legislation! Stay tuned!