The blog of the Urban Institute
July 25, 2019

How Child Care Agencies Can Build Their Capacity for Evidence-Based Policymaking

July 25, 2019

Since the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) Act was passed in 2014, state, territory, and tribal agencies that oversee child care programs have been working hard to implement its new requirements (PDF). Many agencies are also playing a growing role in building early care and education systems that promote early learning and family support, with assistance from federal initiatives such as the recent Preschool Development Grant Birth through Five.

At the same time, these agencies are asked to improve access to quality care for certain priority populations, including infants and toddlers and families with parents working nontraditional hours. They also face the pleasant challenge of determining the best ways to invest the historic boost in child care funds appropriated by Congress in 2018 and 2019.

As agencies weigh different policy options and initiatives, they must consider how to use evidence and foster an agency-wide learning culture to improve their programs. Yet building research and evaluation capacity can feel like one more demand during this time of rapid change in agencies that administer child care subsidies. This can be particularly difficult for agencies that are new to evaluation, lack in-house research staff, or do not have strong partnerships with local universities or research firms.

Where can state, territory, and tribal agencies turn for help in improving their research and evaluation capacity? My colleagues and I recently completed an updated resource guide with an annotated list of selected written and online resources to assist Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) lead agencies seeking to build research and evaluation capacity to support policy implementation.

The prospect of designing and implementing new research studies or evaluations may be daunting, especially given the abundance of available resources. That’s why the guide is a concise, curated list of practical resources. We focused on tools with the greatest relevance to child care subsidy agencies. For example, five of the resources discuss working with evaluators and more than two dozen resources talk about working with administrative data.

The resource guide aims to support state governments in using available data when making policy, programmatic, and operational decisions, in line with the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2018, which encourages federal agencies to do the same.

Research and Evaluation Capacity Building: A Resource Guide for Child Care and Development Fund Lead Agencies is one of several resources developed by the Center for Supporting Research on CCDBG Implementation with support from the Office of Research, Planning & Evaluation of the Administration for Children and Families. Although the guide is designed for CCDF lead agencies implementing policy changes in response to the reauthorization of the 2014 CCDBG Act, it can also serve as a general resource for state agencies, researchers, and technical assistance providers in child care and other human services sectors.

Photo by Cavan Images/Getty Images

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