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A Bipartisan Case for Early Childhood Development

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

A Bipartisan Case for Early Childhood Development

Letter from the Co-Chairs

Since we first met as members of Congress more than two decades ago, we have watched our nation undergo profound changes, particularly in the realm of work and family life. Many of those changes have been positive, bringing new prosperity and greater diversity to the fabric of American life and society. But we have also seen changes that create new challenges for parents who are trying to give their children the best possible start in life. Meanwhile, rapid advances in brain science have given parents, educators, and policymakers new appreciation for the importance of the earliest years of life in terms of providing the foundation for healthy emotional, cognitive, and social development.

Against this backdrop, we have become increasingly concerned about the difficult trade-offs facing millions of families and young children in America. Whether parents are able to stay at home or have to arrange for child care outside the home so they can work, many aren’t able to make the choices they believe would ensure their young children receive the quality care and learning opportunities that are critical for healthy early development. We teamed up to chair the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Early Childhood Initiative because we think few policy challenges are more important to our nation’s future than helping families overcome these barriers so that all American children can get the strong start they need to grow into successful, productive adults.

Few policy challenges are more important to our nation’s future than helping all American children get the strong start they need.

For some families, of course, good options are especially scarce and the disadvantages especially great. We now know that starting at birth, and indeed even during pregnancy, exposure to adverse influences—from poor nutrition and lack of parental nurturing to family trauma and substance abuse—can have lifelong effects. This means that many of our most vulnerable children have already fallen behind long before they enter school. There is little systemic or coordinated support to catch them or to help parents better engage and fulfill their essential role as their child’s first and most important teachers.

Our interest in early childhood development is rooted in our own experiences, personal and professional: We’re both fathers and former legislators—in fact, one of us is raising seven kids and the other served for a decade as chairman or ranking member of the House Education and Labor Committee, witnessing firsthand how government could work to help expand opportunities for children. And while we certainly had our share of policy differences when we served in Congress, both of us remember a time when it was possible for Democrats and Republicans to work together on critical issues of national interest. Early childhood development, we believe, is clearly that type of issue—one that ought to unite lawmakers across the political spectrum given the enormity of the stakes and our shared interest in better early childhood outcomes.

Early childhood development is the type of issue that ought to unite lawmakers given the enormity of the stakes. 

BPC’s Early Childhood Initiative has been asking: How can parents, childcare providers, educators, doctors, business leaders, public officials, and lawmakers work together to ensure that children are equipped to succeed—in school, in life, and in the workforce? Is it possible to provide a stronger and more comprehensive network of tools and support to help moms and dads give young children the developmental foundation to realize their full potential as adults? And can existing programs be enhanced and improved to produce more bang for the buck?

Many states and communities have recognized the importance of children’s earliest years and are innovating to better support families and build stronger communities. They are trying new approaches to support early childhood and enlisting a broader range of stakeholders, even as they deal with new crises like the current opioid epidemic. It’s incumbent on us to learn from these efforts, to collect the data and ask the hard questions, so the best ideas can be replicated and their impact expanded.

This report describes some of what we have learned about early childhood development and about opportunities to make a difference in the lives of young children. We also offer recommendations for advancing a federal policy agenda that is specifically focused on enhancing the quality of early childhood experiences. We are confident that bipartisan support can be found for such an agenda. After all, in the search for effective strategies to secure the long-term health and prosperity of our democracy, America’s youngest children, keepers of our common future, are an obvious place to start.


George Miller
Former U.S. Representative, California

Rick Santorum
Former U.S. Senator, 

Summary of Recommendations

Of the 73.6 million children in the U.S. today, almost 20 million are under the age of 5. As the future innovators, workers, and leaders upon whom our nation’s long-term security and prosperity depends, they are America’s most important asset. But America’s youngest children are also vulnerable and too many of them are growing up in environments and under circumstances that don’t promote healthy early development. BPC’s Early Childhood Initiative, led by Rep. George Miller and Sen. Rick Santorum explores how, as a nation, we can better support young children and their families to make sure that all Americans start the journey of life with a fair shot at realizing their full potential and becoming successful, productive adults.

Increase the value of and access to the federal Child Tax Credit.

  • Establish a young child tax credit of $1,500 per eligible child for all families with children through age 5 (for a total credit of $2,500).
  • Begin phasing in the credit at the first dollar earned and develop an approach that phases in the credit at a faster rate than current law.

Continue and build on effective home visiting models to provide critical support for families with infants and young children.

  • Reauthorize the existing Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program for five years at (at least) the current level of federal funding.
  • Expand state and local home visiting needs assessments to focus on integrating home visiting services into the broader continuum of early childhood support services.
  • The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) should work with states to innovate and support promising program models that add to the evidence base for home visiting interventions.
  • HHS should complete and follow up on the Home Visiting Career Trajectories Project, which is focused on how to build career pathways for home visiting professionals.

Encourage further innovation, both in developing a broader array of effective, evidence-based strategies for supporting families with young children and in unlocking resources for implementing these strategies.

  • Establish a national advisory committee to identify strategies to expand public and private insurance coverage for home visiting
    and other innovative family support interventions.
  • The Innovation Center at HHS, in coordination with the Department of Education, should test innovative models of care that
    include “school readiness” as a quality measure.

Develop and adopt a new, national policy on paid leave.

Double federal Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) funding for children ages 0 to 5.

Increase the value of and access to the federal Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit.

  • Double the amount of child care expenses eligible for the credit from $3,000 to $6,000 for one child (0 to 5) and from $6,000 to $12,000 for two or more children (0 to 5).
  • Make the credit fully refundable.

Require states to provide expanded CCDBG resources at a 75 percent reimbursement rate.

Create a new, competitive grant program to encourage states to design state-level tax programs that increase access to high-quality early childhood programs for children ages 0 to 5.

The Department of Education should ensure that early childhood workers have access to Pell grants and other forms of tuition assistance for higher education.

The Department of Labor should prioritize the development of a child care apprenticeship program that focuses on improving the competency of child care managers and directors.

Encourage states to establish minimum levels of training and competencies for their child care workforce and to improve professional development systems for the child care workforce in ways that have been shown to impact child outcomes.

Align Title IV-E of the Social Security Act (Federal Foster Care Payments) with Child Abuse and Prevention Treatment Act (CAPTA) requirements to:

  • Develop and implement a “plan of safe care” for substance-exposed infants and young children and their families.
  • Report annual data to the federal government on the number of substance-exposed infants, young children, and families for whom a plan of safe care was developed, and report service referrals.

Require HHS to identify and share model strategies to support state and local implementation of “plans of safe care” and data collection and reporting.

Require the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to encourage and provide guidance on how the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Block Grant (SABG) can be used to address treatment and recovery service needs for parents and their infants and young children, and integrate this funding with other available federal funding streams.

Amend Part C of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to improve linkages among services for early intervention and substance use disorders.

Children and the Opioid Epidemic

The recent increase in opioid abuse requires a focus, not only on the adults who are struggling with use and addiction but on the epidemic’s extensive impacts on children. Infants who are born with prenatal exposure to opioids often experience neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), which is characterized by symptoms such as tremors or seizures, vomiting, fevers, excessive crying, poor feeding, and rapid breathing.


The recommendations outlined in this report are a call to action by a variety of actors: Congress, administration officials, public officials serving in state and local governments, the private sector, and other stakeholders. As Rep. Miller and Sen. Santorum have said: “Making sure all our nation’s children start the journey of life equipped for what lies ahead is central to the American ethos of equality of opportunity—the notion that America is a place where everyone, regardless of background and circumstance, has a chance at achieving success. Through our work with BPC, we also hope to demonstrate the possibility of developing meaningful solutions that can bridge political and ideological divides. We owe our children nothing less.”


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