PROJECTWho Might Face Barriers to Accessing Quality Child Care?


Child care is a critical work support for families and a crucial component of children’s early learning and healthy development. But are child care subsidies going to settings that all families can access? The Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), the nation’s largest federal child care assistance program, helps low-income parents who work or are in education and training pay for child care. In many states, subsidies funded by the CCDBG are increasingly going toward center-based settings and away from other options like licensed family child care homes and family, friends, and neighbor caregivers. New requirements, incentives, and funding levels in the recently reauthorized CCDBG could inadvertently exacerbate this trend. Prioritizing subsidized center-based care may make child care assistance less accessible to families who want or need alternatives because of their family circumstances or the limited availability of center-based slots serving their needs.

Four groups may be particularly disadvantaged by a singular focus on centers: children who need care during nontraditional and variable hours, infants and toddlers, children in rural areas, and children with disabilities and special needs. These groups represent a significant portion of all children eligible for child care assistance. They are identified in the 2014 reauthorization of the CCDBG as deserving priority by states and territories (as are homeless families and those living in other underserved communities), but they face many challenges accessing center-based care.

Explore the Data for Your State

The charts below show, for each state, the share of children subsidized by the CCDBG who were served in centers in 2015 and the share of low-income children who have working parents and fall in three of these highlighted priority groups (data are unavailable for children with disabilities and special needs). Click on your state to see where federal child care subsidies are going and how many low-income families may face challenges accessing center-based care. Read the full report, its executive summary, and profiles of each of the four priority groups below.


Sources: Data on specific population groups from 2011–15 American Community Survey five-year estimates. Child care data are available from the US Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Office of Child Care’s “Child Care and Development Fund Statistics” web page. The page indicates that “Child Care and Development Fund statistics are compiled through data reported by states and territories on the ACF-800—Annual Aggregate Child Care Data Report and ACF-801—Monthly Child Care Data Report.”

Notes: Low-income children are those younger than 6 with working parents in families with income under 200 percent of the federal poverty level.  Priority groups are defined for this analysis as follows: Infants and toddlers are children younger than 3. Children living in rural areas are those living in a nonmetropolitan area (a county outside census-defined metropolitan statistical areas). Nonmetropolitan areas include counties that make up micropolitan areas, which contain smaller cities, as well as other counties that do not contain or interact with an urban core. Children who have parents working nontraditional hours are defined in two ways: at least some hours or over half of all hours worked by the child’s principal caretaker(s) are before 8:00 a.m. or after 6:00 p.m. The chart showing the number of children in at least one priority group uses the “over half of all hours worked” definition. Not all low-income children younger than 6 with working parents are eligible for the CCDBG.


Priority Group Profiles

Research Areas Children and youth Families
Tags Families with low incomes