The pandemic exacerbated the many challenges families face in finding and accessing child care that meets their needs. The Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF), a federal block grant program, is the primary source of funds states and territories use to support families’ equitable access to child care.
Now, CCDF agencies, which have flexibility to craft child care policies to meet families’ needs, are grappling with how to design and implement policies to best address gaps in the community.
Urban is partnering with the District of Columbia’s Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE), which administers CCDF and DC’s child care subsidy program, to design an evaluation to understand whether DC’s child care subsidy policies are being implemented as intended and increasing access to quality child care for the city’s most vulnerable populations.
Our planning efforts have yielded a promising approach for assessing how changing subsidy rates and copayments affects families, providers, and agency staff. These insights can inform researchers interested in evaluating child care subsidy programs in DC and beyond.
- Partner with the agency responsible for administering the CCDF program. Developing a formal and ongoing partnership with OSSE has helped us gain insights into the most salient policies and practices within the subsidy system that informed our evaluation design. The partnership has also ensured the questions we answer provide insights to inform policymaking and subsidy practices.
- Actively engage child care providers. Meeting with the Quality Improvement Network, Capital Quality Communities of Practice, and Early Head Start–Child Care Partnership Program helped us understand the perspectives of large and small centers and home-based providers who provide child care to subsidy-eligible parents. Our discussions about navigating the subsidy system and other related systems shaped the study design and questions we included in our data collection instruments. These providers also helped us understand the priorities of policymakers and administrators implementing child care subsidy policies.
- Partner with community-based organizations. Developing a partnership with community organizations that have a vested interest in supporting providers and families in the subsidy system was also invaluable. We interviewed the organization providing coaching to child care directors and overseeing the Shared Services Alliances. We learned how different organizations support child care providers participating in the subsidy system. .
- Apply a racial and economic equity lens to research design. Systemic policies and practices rooted in racism and classism have limited education and workforce opportunities for families with low incomes and families of color—especially Black families. Research, then, should ensure families most likely to need subsidies are included and that these systemic barriers are heard and documented. Knowing parents and caregivers often select child care close to their homes or workplaces, we conducted targeted outreach in specific neighborhoods that have long been segregated in DC.
- Apply an intersectional lens to research design (PDF). Race, ethnicity, gender, class and other key social identities affect how people interact with the child care subsidy system. Recognizing families’ intersectionality and designing the research and analysis process with that diversity in mind helped us understand whether the child care subsidy system is meeting all their needs. To apply an intersectional lens, we prioritized recruiting a racially, ethnically, linguistically, and culturally diverse sample.
- Use elements of community-engaged methods. The lived experiences of families, providers, administrators, and other vested community partners enhanced our understanding of the subsidy system and how changes to it affect different groups. Their insights not only informed the study design, in-depth interview protocols, and survey instruments but also helped us refine aspects of our secondary data analysis. To inform our interpretations of data, we plan to share analyses with community members through data walks.
- Ensure the sample is representative of people most affected by the subsidy system. We emailed providers who represent priority (PDF) groups, shared information about the study in communities of practice, and asked for referrals from other providers. We prioritized facilities representing the cultural diversity and linguistic diversity of providers and families and those providing care to families with very low family incomes, experiencing homelessness, and with children with special needs.
- Analyze existing data collected by the CCDF agency. Evaluating the scope and quality of data OSSE already collects helped us identify what questions OSSE was already equipped to answer, what impact questions could be addressed, and which would require additional data collection.
- Collaborate with other researchers studying related issues and develop ongoing partnerships. We greatly benefited from a cross-fertilization of ideas and expertise through working with others studying different aspects of child care quality, compensation, and new parents during the pandemic. For example, we learned about existing context and baseline conditions so we could focus our efforts specifically on questions related to child care subsidies.
Access to quality child care is important so parents can go to work and school without worrying about their children’s well-being. Rigorous evaluations of child care subsidy policies and practices are critical steps to knowing whether the child care subsidy system is meeting the needs of families and how it could be improved.