Leading experts weigh in on current policy issues and challenges

Bridging the Gap between Child Care and Workforce Development

Lack of child care can make it difficult for low-income parents to successfully participate in education and training programs. Across the country, child care and workforce development organizations and agencies are working to address these challenges by partnering with each other. What hurdles do these partners face, and what strategies are they using to overcome them? What policy solutions could be deployed to better support the child care needs of parents trying to further their education and training?

The Urban Institute is talking with...
Karon Rosa Karon Rosa
Vanessa Freytag Vanessa Freytag
Ricardo Estrada Ricardo Estrada
Linda Chappel Linda Chappel
Tonya Williams Tonya Williams
Teresa Derrick-Mills
Moderated by:
Teresa Derrick-Mills
Senior Research Associate

Hello, everyone, and welcome to our policy debate on strategies to meet the child care needs of low-income parents seeking education and training.  This debate is part of a larger project focusing on the intersection between two important domains –the workforce development “system” that has education and training services that can help low-income parents get the skills they need to advance in the labor market, and the child care and early education “system” that is essential to ensure that parents don’t face child care barriers.

Our work in this area has identified both significant child care barriers facing low-income families who need child care to enroll in and complete  education and training, as well as exciting strategies and partnerships around the country that are working to bridge that gap for parents and children.  We invited some of those partners to share their challenges and strategies in bridging this gap at the state and local levels. 

Let’s start this debate with the following questions:

  1. If your organization focuses on the workforce development side of the issue, how did you identify child care as a challenge and what specific challenges related to child care do families you serve typically face?
  2. If your organization focuses on the child care side of the issue, how did you identify that workforce development was a challenge for the families you serve and what specific challenges related to workforce development do families you serve typically face?

(This policy debate is supported by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and we are grateful for their support.  However, the opinions presented in this debate should be attributed solely to the individuals involved, and should not be attributed to the Foundation, the Urban Institute, its trustees, or its other funders.)

Arkansas Career Pathways Initiative (CPI), a partnership between Department of Workforce Services and Department of Higher Education, focuses on workforce education/training at all community colleges in the state. TANF provides the funding, so all participants must first be custodial care givers-so child care is always an issue. Department of Human Services (DHS) provides child care when funding is available, but in Arkansas there is a long wait list in many of the 25 sites-so Career Pathways funds can be used for child care. This is the 10th year and over $100 million in TANF has been sub-granted to the colleges with a large portion going for child care.



Through direct services, research and advocacy, Child Care Services Association works to ensure that all children have the best start in life. Since 1974, CCSA has promoted high quality child care for children ages birth through five. As the child care resource and referral agency for the Triangle area of North Carolina (Durham, Orange and Wake Counties), CCSA works to connect families with child care that meets their needs and with resources that make child care more affordable. CCSA also works with child care providers and businesses to improve the quality of available child care by offering training, technical assistance, educational scholarships, nutrition resources, salary supplements and more. 
In FY 2014–2015, CCSA Consumer Education and Referral counselors fielded requests from more than 2,500 families with over 3,300 children, with questions about choosing and using child care. 19% of our families surveyed about their search for child care shared that they “quit or could not start school” because they did not have care.

CCSA administers a scholarship program designed to facilitate access to high quality early education by removing the financial barriers posed by the high cost of quality child care. It provides financial assistance with child care payments to income-eligible families who are working, in school, looking for work, unable to work or have a child with a documented developmental need. Families pay a portion of their gross family income for child care and CCSA pays on behalf of the child directly to 4- and 5-star child care programs. Scholarship family surveys in FY 2015 revealed: for 77% the scholarship enabled the start or continuation of job training; for 96% it enabled employment (start, maintain or increase); for 73.5% the scholarship enabled start or continuation of school.

4C for Children is the child care resource and referral agency for southern OH (Dayton/Middletown/Cincinnati), Northern KY and Louisville. We have worked on these issues for more than 40 years. We find that many of the policies that should support a parent who is trying to improve their employability by seeking education work directly against that goal/outcome. For example, we are now seeing that many of the "better" jobs (i.e. jobs that pay $12-$15/hour) that parents are seeking when they finish their education disqualify them from receiving any child care assistance vouchers because our policies do not permit them to enter the "system" unless they start below 150% of FPL...even though a parent who enters at the bottom end can receive assistance (in OH) up to 300% of FPL. So the very jobs that employers are desperate to fill are the ones that knock a parent out of any help with child care. Our average child care costs in this region are about the same as a year of public university tuition


Thanks Karon, Linda and Vanessa.

It is clear that you are involved in innovative efforts to address the child care challenges of low-income parents seeking education and training. How have partnerships with other organizations helped to further your strategies for supporting parents in education and training?

Partnering with higher education and with United Way on projects focused on the education and employment needs of families allows for flexibility and the tailoring of program guidelines to specifically meet the needs of parents in school and in training programs. CCSA collaborates with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to provide employee and student-parent child care referral services and a child care scholarship program. CCSA works with University affiliated families to learn about their child care options and to assess eligibility for a wide range of support services across the early childhood system - beyond just the University sponsored options. 

CCSA works with United Way and a number of community partner agencies through collective impact collaboratives designed to meet the unique needs of families engaged in school or work training programs. For example, the program funds full time scholarships for child care to allow for parent study time and transportation. Flexible guidelines that avoid time limits allow parents to complete their training programs and move into employment while continuously having high quality developmentally appropriate care for their children.

We generally think about the Child Care Development Block Grant/child care subsidies/vouchers  (CCDBG) when thinking about child care services for working families.  In AR, coordinating early childhood education for working families is about considering Head Start/Early Head Start, state funded pre-k and CCDBG.  Because of the work related to high quality early childhood education and improved child outcomes, we have worked to ensure that all children receiving federal or state subsidized services is in a quality setting.   A continued challenge in this area is that many Head Start and pre-k programs do not meet the working families needs for full day services and summer.   Coordinating these efforts has allowed us to offer wrap around funds and summer care to programs like Head Start and Pre-k.     In January 2016, programs who take CCDBG in Arkansas must meet the minimum level of the state's Quality Rating Improvement System-Better Beginnings.   These efforts help working families access higher quality care!             

Tonya, ADHE/CPI places "value added" to the DHS and ADHE partnership that serves so many of our low-income students at 25 locations with much needed child care while they are enrolled at the community colleges. Hopefully, the Strengthening Working Families Initiative (SWFI) grant proposal, that is in the works, can be another win/win. Could the Quality Rating Improvement System-Better Beginnings  be a part of the training embedded in the Child Development certificates and degrees?

We definitely could work with institutions of higher education that offer certificates and degrees to ensure that this information is embedded! 

AR partnered with Career Pathways several years ago to assist students with child care/early childhood education.  Career Pathways is a great resource for families with supports to obtain higher education/job skills and a sustainable career.  This type of approach eliminates and minimizes generational poverty cycles.  All low income families need access to this type of program!  We are currently working to support a renewed effort with or without additional funds.   

The partnerships that sustain the Career Pathways Initiative were build on "a lot of pizza working lunches" where policy/procedures for each of the agencies were the agenda items. State agencies tend to live in silos where there is never enough time or personnel to cover all the bases. In the South we "eat about everything" so pizza lunches served as the conduit for building relationships of mutual respect where each agency presented an outline of performance measures for their agency and all were taken into account on the annual plan. These relationships of mutual respect are still intact, but must be renewed and revisited often.








Arkansas Career Pathways Initiative (CPI) students are an average age of 31, primarily female (90), 60% white with one year of college. Most had high expectation upon high school graduation and entered college- but became pregnant, got on drugs or messed up financial aid.  When they moved back to small towns in Arkansas the only skills they had were for  "minimum wage" jobs. They became invisible in the community and were not being recruited by the local colleges. By addressing the barriers of child care, transportation, books, licensure required for employment and other program related cost, they became serious students with a 10 points or higher student success rate when compared to other students. Most are enrolled in Allied Health, Business, Education or whatever Manufacturing is available in the local community. Employers report that they are STAR employees who show up on time and do the work. All legislated performance measures (enrollment, attainment, entering employment and retaining employment) have been met on statewide reporting for the past ten years.

A good number of students that are served by Instituto are from the three major Hispanic communities in Chicago, most of them first and second generation of immigrants, and with a family size of five, including three children mostly under aged. Childcare services is a major determinant for parents to go to school and learn skills that will help them get a better job.   By offering childcare services in the same building where they are taking classes will provide the opportunity to both parents to pursue an education together and at the same time, and not having to choose which parent will be in home taking care of the children while the other go to school. The retention rates in our classes are as high as 95%, and childcare services are an important contributor for students to stay in class. Now a great challenge for us is to keep funds coming in to support this program, when the State of Illinois suspended any support for childcare and other social services in the State. I will address the funding issues and our strategies in my next post.

We encounter many challenges to ensuring affordable, accessible high quality early education for families seeking to improve their education.  There is tremendous need for more high quality child care facilities, including more campus-based care options and programs that offer evening and weekend care options. Also programs that are more accommodating of student schedules and scheduling needs. We certainly need more financial assistance/subsidy for child care in general, but also subsidy guidelines and policies need to be more flexible and better address the needs of parents who are in education and training programs-- schedules of care allowed and supported, types of education and training permitted, length of support allowed to student parents, etc.  CCDF reauthorization provides greater flexibility and latitude for serving parents in school/training on subsidy; the recent Early Head Start partnership grants present other opportunities for access and financial assistance. 

Reading across your posts, I see key themes such as understanding the populations you are serving, creating services with those needs in mind, reaching out to partners that can help you meet the needs, and establishing trust with those partners, in part by understanding each other’s goals and setting accountability benchmarks. What other types of partnerships have you built or strategies have you used to help low income families meet their child care needs and access education and training programs?

Funding to sustain the childcare services for students has been a big challenge, and training organizations such as Instituto have been trying to be as creative as possible to maintain these services available to students. All our proposal budgets for public and private grants include a line for student supporting services, which include items such as transportation assistance, emergency funds, and childcare. Students using our childcare services will be reported as recipients of the Students support services, and Instituto charge a fee against the grants allowing this expense. Instituto also use title II funds to pay for childcare services offered by Instituto as long as the students and children are in the same building. Instituto also has operates an after school program funded by the City of Chicago, that serves 80 children a year ages 6 to 12 years old, this program has been operating for over 15 years and the funding is automatic renew every year as long as the performance is good. For out of Instituto childcare services, our Center for Working Families, assist students in applying for state vouchers to pay for childcare services, most of the time these vouchers go to pay relatives of the students who are taking care of the students' children as parents go to school for training.  Kellogg Foundation issues a RFP last year for grants that will support single mothers who need childcare services as they attend training for new skills. and US Department of labor issue the RFA for the SWFI grant in which childcare services are the main focus. I think the Federal agencies are more sensitive to the need for developing a sustainable way to maintain childcare services available to families who want to go back to school to improve their technical skills to find better jobs and provide better for their families.

This has been a great discussion. You have talked about challenges parents face, strategies to meet the needs, and some policy areas that support some, but not all of the parental needs. What policy opportunities do you see for better supporting parents in improving their education and training (think about the policy areas related to child care, workforce development, post-secondary education, or TANF)?  

We have several different approaches to trying to meet the needs of parents who are working on post-secondary education. We have been part of the information day/week for new students. We  have received direct referrals from the counselors at the educational institution. We have received referrals from case workers or other professionals interacting with the families independently of the education system. I'm not sure we've found the "best" way. Overall I find that many educational institutions focus on this too late in the process (often when the student is in crisis).

Also - I find the funding efforts can be complicated. Many educational institutions are focused on attracting monies for tuition scholarships (i.e. funds that go directly to the institutions) and the funding for child care needs is seen as an outside issue. 

There is much work to be done to increase awareness of the need for systemic and policy changes at the state and national levels to support college access and success of adult learners. Improving access to affordable college education and workforce supports that result in earning at least a living wage will require innovative strategies. Information on innovations and research from the field must be available to inform state and national efforts. Exploring strategies such as more flexible articulation agreements between technical, community, and 4-year institutions as well as specific supports for working adults to attain college credits, credentials and degrees; and expanded efforts to leverage public and private resources for workforce development and compensation strategies.

As we close this debate, I want to thank our discussants for reflecting on their experiences and strategies helping low-income parents in Arkansas, Illinois, North Carolina, and Ohio access child care so they can pursue educational and training opportunities. Although the states and communities they work in have many differences, our discussants reveal similarities in challenges that parents face in finding child care during the hours they need it and paying for the child care once they find it.

They also reflect different approaches to addressing the challenges. Although each one is a bit different, they are similar in that they:

  • Identify the needs of the families they are serving
  • Develop multiple strategies
  • Engage multiple partners, from both the public and private sectors
  • Partner across fields – higher education institutions, community-based child care resource organizations, state human services departments, and workforce development agencies
  • Braid funding opportunities from federal, state, local, and private sources
  • Sustain their efforts over the long term 

Their comments point to a number of federal funding streams that organizations can use to help support parents improve their education and training including the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the Child Care and Development Block Grant, Head Start, Early Head Start, support services dollars available through the Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act, and the recently announced Strengthening Working Families Initiative. Each of these funding streams supports particular needs in particular circumstances.

We hope you will continue the journey with us in understanding where families experience gaps in meeting their child care and education/training needs, and the strategies that can better support them, by checking back periodically in our Bridging the Gap project. A number of our existing papers may help in understanding the issues and opportunities further, and more papers will be coming soon.