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Getting and Retaining Child Care Assistance

How Policy and Practice Influence Parents' Experiences

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Document date: March 01, 2002
Released online: March 01, 2002

Assessing the New Federalism Occasional Paper No. 55

The nonpartisan Urban Institute publishes studies, reports, and books on timely topics worthy of public consideration. The views expressed are those of the authors and should not be attributed to the Urban Institute, its trustees, or its funders.


About the Series

Assessing the New Federalism is a multiyear Urban Institute project designed to analyze the devolution of responsibility for social programs from the federal government to the states, focusing primarily on health care, income security, employment and training programs, and social services. Researchers monitor program changes and fiscal developments. In collaboration with Child Trends, the project studies changes in family well-being. The project aims to provide timely, nonpartisan information to inform public debate and to help state and local decisionmakers carry out their new responsibilities more effectively.

Key components of the project include a household survey, studies of policies in 13 states, and a database with information on all states and the District of Columbia, available at the Urban Institute's Web site (http://www.urban.org). This paper is one in a series of occasional papers analyzing information from these and other sources.


Contents

Executive Summary
Introduction
Chapter 1. How Parents Experience the Subsidy System: Overarching Administrative and Structural Factors
Chapter 2. Initial Access to the Child Care Subsidy System
Chapter 3. Retaining Assistance during the Recertification Process
Chapter 4. Retaining Child Care Assistance after Leaving Welfare
Chapter 5. Retaining Assistance through Changes in Employment Circumstances
Chapter 6. Retaining Subsidies during Changes in Child Care Providers
Chapter 7. The End of the Process: Termination from the Subsidy Program
Chapter 8. Conclusions
Appendix 1. State and Local Administrative Structures in the 12 ANF Case Study States
Appendix 2. Study Methodology
Appendix 3. Changing Geographical Locations
Appendix 4. Developing Strategies That Can Support Access and Retention of Child Care Subsidies
Notes
References
About the Authors


Executive Summary

In recent years, helping to defray some of the costs of child care for low-income parents has become a cornerstone of state and local policies to help low-income parents work and to avoid or leave welfare. Because of the important role that child care plays in meeting these policy goals, there is increasing concern about whether eligible parents who need child care assistance are accessing the service and, if not, why not. While many families cannot get subsidies because there are not sufficient funds available to serve all those who are eligible, research suggests that some families who could get child care assistance—because they are of high priority or live in states where there are more resources invested in child care—may not be accessing it and that families who do get help cycle on and off the system fairly quickly.

This report looks beyond funding and eligibility issues to examine what additional factors might affect whether eligible parents who know they can get a subsidy actually use one. It relies on data gathered from subsidy agency administrators, key child care experts, child care caseworkers, parents, and providers at 17 sites in 12 states in 1999 as part of the Assessing the New Federalism case study project. The report examines those subsidy policies and practices that may affect the utilization patterns of eligible parents who want to apply for, or who already receive, subsidies. It also touches on some of the ways that these policies and practices may affect the willingness or the interest of parents to try to get subsidies.

This report examines several areas of subsidy policy and practice that shape utilization among eligible parents who want assistance—in particular, those that affect the following:

The overall experiences of parents interacting with the subsidy system, regardless of whether it is when they initially access the system or once they receive subsidies. These policies and practices shape how easy or difficult it is to interact with the agency in any way—how easy it is to contact caseworkers, the way they are treated by staff, and so forth (chapter 1).

The ease with which eligible parents who know about child care assistance can initially get access to subsidies—in particular, what they have to do in the application process and what they experience as they initially apply for subsidies (chapter 2). The ease with which parents who obtain subsidies are able to retain them as they experience various life transitions that can affect their subsidy—in particular, what parents must do on a regular basis to prove their eligibility (chapter 3); to keep their subsidy as they move off welfare (chapter 4); and to retain subsidies as they experience other common changes, such as those in their job or pay (chapter 5) or in their child care provider (chapter 6). (Appendix 3 also briefly discusses another transition for parents—changing geographical locations.)

How the termination process works for families, focusing specifically on how parents lose child care assistance, and how this process may encourage or discourage the retention of subsidies (chapter 7).

Chapter 8 provides a summary of key findings, their implications for policy, and promising practices and principles. (Appendix 4 includes a three-page summary of the promising practices and principles.)

The paper concludes that there are a number of subsidy policies and practices that make it difficult for low-income eligible parents to access and retain the child care assistance they need in order to work. This research suggests that these practices may inadvertently undercut several of the fundamental goals of the child care subsidy system, including supporting work, reducing welfare receipt, and promoting stable child care. Yet there are good examples of policies and practices that support access and retention, and states and localities have the freedom to implement such strategies in the current federal context. Consequently, while these strategies will not address the larger access constraints created by inadequate funding levels, taking steps to make the subsidy system more accessible to low-income families could help support the larger policy goals of supporting work among low-income parents and more stable child care for their children.

This report is available in its entirety in the Portable Document Format (PDF), which many find convenient when printing.


This paper is part of the Urban Institute's Assessing the New Federalism project, a multiyear project to monitor and assess the devolution of social programs from the federal to the state and local levels. Alan Weil is the project director. The project analyzes changes in income support, social services, and health programs. In collaboration with Child Trends, the project studies child and family well-being.

This paper has received direct funding from The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The Assessing the New Federalism project is supported by The Annie E. Casey Foundation, the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, The Ford Foundation, The David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, The McKnight Foundation, The Commonwealth Fund, the Stuart Foundation, the Weingart Foundation, The Fund for New Jersey, The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the Joyce Foundation, and The Rockefeller Foundation.

The authors would like to thank Sarah Adelman, Monica Rohacek, Mallory Barg, and Mark Himmelsbach for their assistance throughout this project. The authors would also like to thank Freya Sonenstein, Matt Stagner, Alan Weil, Karen Tvedt, Helen Blank, Mark Greenberg, and Jennifer Mezey for their helpful comments on earlier versions of the report.

A special thanks to the many state and local child care administrators who participated in the interviews and reviewed an earlier draft of this report, as well as the many child care caseworkers, providers, and parents who participated in our focus groups.



Topics/Tags: | Children and Youth | Families and Parenting | Poverty, Assets and Safety Net


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