Three decades after its creation in 1990, the Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) is the largest source of Federal funding for child care for low-income working parents. The goal of CCDF is to increase access to high-quality care that supports early child development while enabling parents to work. CCDF is administered on the federal level by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Administration for Children and Families (ACF), Office of Child Care, and on the state, territory, and tribal level by designated CCDF lead agencies.
In Connecticut, the Office of Early Childhood (OEC) administers CCDF funding as the Care 4 Kids (C4K) program. As Connecticut’s CCDF lead agency, the OEC is responsible for establishing C4K provider reimbursement rates (the total tuition to be paid to providers) and family copayment structures (the amount that a family will contribute to toward the tuition, based on their household income). Families that apply for C4K and meet eligibility guidelines are certified for vouchers that help to offset the cost of child care. Like other states’ CCDF programs, C4K is most successful when an adequate supply of providers chooses to offer care to C4K families, balancing supply and demand.
As part of ACF’s efforts to understand how well states’ CCDF policies and initiatives address the program’s goals, its Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation (OPRE) awarded ten 18-month CCDF evaluation planning grants in 2021 to partnerships between research organizations and CCDF lead agencies. During the evaluation planning grant period (late 2021 to early 2023), each team is designing an evaluation to examine how subsidy payment policies affect parents’ access to child care. After the planning grants conclude, OPRE hopes to award evaluation implementation grants to several teams to support execution of their evaluation plans.
As shared in a previous post, OPRE awarded one of the CCDF evaluation planning grants to Education Development Center (EDC) and the OEC to support a coordinated evaluation of CCDF policies and initiatives in Connecticut. Dr. Clare Waterman (PEER co-director) led the project until her transition from EDC to Child Care Aware of America; EDC’s Dr. Heidi Rosenberg (PEER management team member) is now leading the project with support from EDC’s Anne Huntington. Although YSM’s Dr. Michael Strambler (PEER director) has served as in an advisory role since the start of the grant, Rosenberg recently invited Strambler and YSM’s Joanna Meyer (PEER co-director) to play an active role as EDC and the OEC work to finalize evaluation goals and research questions.
The EDC-OEC-YSM team is part of the OPRE-convened Planning Research on Subsidy Payment Rates (PROSPR) community of practice, which facilitates collaboration among the ten evaluation planning grant teams, with the goal of promoting synergy among the evaluation projects. PROSPR participants have contributed to the creation of a shared logic model and are currently exploring common constructs of interest across projects. Participants have also discussed ways to operationalize “equitable access” to ensure that the proposed evaluations meaningfully address issues of equity in providers’ and families’ experiences of policy implementation. The EDC-OEC-YSM team is designing an evaluation that will examine the implementation of C4K subsidy payment policies as well as the impact of these policies. For example, when the OEC increases provider reimbursement rates, how are providers informed of these changes (policy implementation) and how do these changes affect providers’ participation in C4K (policy impact)? The complexity of C4K program administration and policies, along with data challenges and pandemic-related shocks to Connecticut’s early care and education system, make it challenging to design evaluation questions that are measurable and attainable.
Meetings of the PROSPR community of practice have revealed that many CCDF evaluation planning grantees are facing these challenges and provided opportunities for teams to grapple with these thorny issues together. In the final months of the grant, the EDC-OEC-YSM team will narrow the focus of the evaluation plan and refine the research questions to ensure that the plan is attainable and relevant to policymakers in Connecticut and beyond.