Ideas. Action. Results.

Recommendations for Continued Success of Early Head Start – Child Care Partnerships

By Linda Smith, Kathlyn McHenry

Thursday, April 11, 2019

In today’s economy, when having both parents in the workforce is a reality for many families with young children, options for affordable, high-quality early care and learning are more critical than ever. The Early Head Start – Child Care Partnership (EHS-CCP) program was created in 2014 to help address this need.

The partnerships support child care programs serving infants and toddlers that meet Early Head Start performance standards but retain the flexibility to address the variety of social, cultural, and work-related needs of families in diverse communities around the country. This innovative structure results in a unique blend of the best features of Early Head Start and child care, allowing providers to leverage and blend resources to improve quality, offer comprehensive services, and expand access.

On March 7, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation published a report identifying descriptive characteristics of the first cohort of 250 EHS-CCP grantees who partnered with 1,892 child care partners (including 1,084 centers and 808 family providers). The findings underscore the importance of the program and identify how the partnerships are meeting their intended goals of improving quality and delivering comprehensive services to more low-income infants, toddlers, and their families.

For instance, the study found participating child care providers benefit from additional funds to serve children and improve quality through an extensive array of resources, coaching, and technical assistance. Nearly all child care partners (93 percent) reported that improving the quality of their services motivated them to participate in the program.

Seventy-seven percent of grantees offered child care staff the opportunity to obtain a Child Development Associate credential to improve teaching practices, and nearly all grantees offered quality monitoring activities to child care partners and used feedback to provide professional development. Most child care partners (69 percent) increased staff salaries, on average by nearly $4,000 for centers and $5,300 for family partners.

Families and children benefit directly from these and other quality improvements, including children that were not enrolled in the EHS-CCP. Notably, 70 percent of child care partners offered at least one complementary service (a screening, referral, or assessment) to children who were in non-partnership slots, and more than two-thirds offered these services to parents – resulting in a no-cost positive ripple effect of EHS-CCP.

These findings emphasize the positive impacts the partnerships have on children, families, and child care providers. Unfortunately, current funding does not come close to meeting the needs for high-quality early care and education for infants and toddlers whose families live in poverty. While the President’s Fiscal Year 2020 Budget maintains funding levels from the previous year for Head Start, at $10.1 billion, including $805 million for the EHS-CCP, Congress should place a stronger emphasis on the partnerships.

To continue successful implementation of the EHS-CCP program, Congress should act to support and expand EHS-CCP for both existing and future grantees. Specifically, the Bipartisan Policy Center, First Five Years Fund, and the Educare Learning Network recommend:

  • Permanently authorize the EHS-CCP and strengthen requirements around workforce development and compensation. The EHS-CCP should be codified through authorizing language rather than through the annual appropriations process. Authorization will secure the program in the federal early childhood policy, stabilize local partnerships, increase access to higher-quality care for infants and toddlers, and give Congress the ability to set parameters and priorities within the program.
  • Increase EHS-CCP funding to meet current and future need. EHS-CCP programs are making positive impacts in communities, but do not come close to meeting child care needs. Congress should increase funding to bring about large-scale systematic change and multiply the positive benefits demonstrated by the partnerships.
  • Conduct research on the true cost of infant and toddler care. Congress should fund and require HHS to commission a study to identify the true cost of high-quality infant and toddler care.
  • As states serve more 3- and 4-year-olds with Pre-K, encourage HHS to redirect Head Start grant funds to serve more infants and toddlers. The partnerships are one of the few programs directly targeted to infants and toddlers, leaving the system under-resourced. As states develop and expand programs for 3- and 4-year-old children, Congress should authorize HHS, in consultation with grantees, to redirect funds to serve more infants and toddlers.

This innovative approach is one potential solution to the child care crisis, and as such, EHS-CCP should be strengthened, expanded, studied, and continually improved in order to meet the current and future needs of our nation.