Approximately 15% of all working parents use faith based child care. Read our clarification blog post here.
Faith-based organizations—encompassing both religious ministry and religiousoriented community groups—play an important role in American society, including in the delivery of child care. Faith-based organizations are in a powerful position. They have a strong infrastructure and understand the needs of their communities. Faith leaders are uniquely positioned to share information about child care and advocate for children and families. Whether hosting a colocated child care program or operating a child care facility, faith-based organizations can shape families’ experiences and perceptions of early care and education.
To understand what drives parental choice when it comes to options among early childhood programs, parents who use faith-based child care are an important and sometimes overlooked population. Knowing the reasons parents select their child care program supports having targeted and effective policies. In a national poll conducted by Bipartisan Policy Center in December 2020, we found that 31% of working-parent households used center-based care, and over half, or 53%, of these families used one that was affiliated with a faith organization.1 Parents additionally cited trust as the leading factor for why they selected their child care program.2
Faith-based child care programs that represent and instill the values parents are seeking for their children can drive portions of the child care market. At the same time, faith-based child care can offer settings and curriculums that support children’s healthy development and successful learning. As the effects of the pandemic continue to impact the nation’s child care market, inclusivity of all parent child care preferences will be especially critical to supporting a comprehensive child care system in this country.
Little research exists on the role faith-based child care plays for many families in the United States. As COVID-19 impacted child care’s already fragile system, lessons learned from the faith-based community are a valuable asset to understand how to strengthen the overall child care market and support parent preferences. In support of this report, BPC spoke to a diverse group of faith-based leaders, early care and education providers, and parents to understand the policy opportunities that can be leveraged to support faith-based child care and how faith-based organizations can be engaged to support child care for all families. What we learned will inform future strategies for including faith-based child care in solutions for the nation’s child care system, including parental preferences and diverse child care options that best meet the needs of children.
The presence of faith-based organizations in child care holds a significant place in the overall development of the country’s child care system. Researchers note the earliest evidence of faith-based child care is a nursery founded in 1789 by the Quaker-supported Philadelphia House of Industry.3
The continued presence of faith-based organizations in child care was foundational to the development of a more formalized child care system in the United States, as church-led congregations sought to create permanent educational spaces and support working women in the years after World War II.4 Today, the amount of faith-based child care across the country is challenging to quantify. No official national survey of faith-based child care has been conducted since a 1983 study conducted by the National Council of Churches, or NCC, and aggregate data are unavailable on the usage of federal and state child care funding by faith-based organizations. Yet it is broadly accepted by policymakers and community leaders that a broad spectrum of faith-based organizations provides a significant share of child care for communities.
The NCC study delineated the mission-oriented reasons faith-based organizations may support or provide child care, which are still relevant to today’s diverse faith-based child care landscape:
- First, caring for young children is already embedded in the mission of many faith-based organizations.
- Second, child care can be a support for families within a given faith-based organization.
- Third, child care is a community service that supports families beyond the faith-based organization’s membership.
- Fourth, child care can serve as religious education,
provide religious program content, or nurture the spiritual and religious growth of children. Finally, some faith-based organizations are motivated by a commitment to social justice and supporting vulnerable populations such as low-income families.5
In unpacking the role faith-based organizations play in child care, it is important to recognize there are many configurations of faith-based child care. Previous studies categorized faith-based child care across a subset of relationships.6 Some faith-based child care programs claim a direct affiliation with a faith-based organization; others do not claim an affiliation, yet represent the charitable mission of a larger religious body. Faith-based child care programs may provide religious instruction, impart values that reference faith in their curriculum but not provide religious instruction, or provide secular instruction while operating under a mission embedded with values of faith.
There are also significant variations in faith-based child care program structure. Faith-based organizations may operate a child care program on religious property, directly employ child care staff, and house the child care facilities. In other instances, a faith-based organization may lease space to an outside entity that manages the child care program’s operations while maintaining an affiliation. Child care programs located off-site from religious property may also maintain a formal or informal affiliation with a faith-based organization.
Similarly, parents select a faith-based child care program for myriad reasons. A survey conducted by BPC in December 2020 showed the most important factors for choosing faith-based child care were quality of caregivers, facility cleanliness, trust, values of providers, safe setting, and opportunities for cognitive development.7
BPC found that faith-based child care is a preferred choice for parents from a variety of communities.
The same December 2020 survey discovered of all parents surveyed, 13% said their ideal child care arrangement during COVID-19—if all programs are equally priced and equally accessible—is a faith-based child care center, which was down slightly from the 14% who reported the same at the beginning of 2020. While a plurality of parents reported their ideal arrangement as providing care for their own child, faith-based child care centers are the second most ideal arrangement.8
Like other child care programs, faith-based child care is structured as a part-day or fullday program and can charge private tuition to parents. Faith-based child care can also access a range of public funding including Head Start, Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships, and state-funded pre-K in some states.
Children in faith-based child care are also eligible to receive a child care subsidy through the Child Care and Development Fund, or CCDF—the largest federal funding source that helps low-income working families pay for child care so they can obtain or maintain employment or attend job training or school—provided they meet minimal health and safety standards.9 CCDF is funded through the Child Care and Development Block Grant, or CCDBG, with a portion of funding dedicated to improving the quality of child care for all families. All child care programs are required to meet minimum health and safety guidelines—inclusive of background checks and health and safety training— and receive an annual inspection in order to be eligible to receive CCDF funding.
A confusing falsehood that plagues the faith-based child care community is that they are ineligible to enroll children receiving a child care subsidy when religious instruction is provided in the classroom. The Department of Health and Human Services specifically clarified that faith-based child care is eligible to receive indirect CCDF funds through child care subsidy certificates, inclusive of programs that provide religious instruction.10 Eligibility for child care subsidy certificates is determined by family income level. Parents use a child care subsidy certificate to offset the cost of a child care slot at the program of their choice.
Direct child care funding in the form of grants and contracts is limited for child care programs providing religious instruction. In response to Supreme Court rulings that established which federal funding mechanisms are available to religious organizations, HHS developed regulations that restrict any faith-based organizations from receiving direct federal grants and contracts to support religious activities—such as religious instruction, worship, or proselytization.11 These regulations apply to grants and contracts awarded directly to a child care program to pay for the cost of a child care slot.
As BPC’s policy brief, Payment Practices to Stabilize Child Care, argues that some use of grants and contracts can support the stabilization of the overall child care market. During the reauthorization of CCDBG, federal policymakers considered requiring states use a portion of CCDBG funding to award direct grants and contracts to child care programs, particularly in regions with a small supply of high-quality child care. After receiving feedback from Congress and states, the Administration of Children and Families, or ACF, established that states are not required to use grants and contracts in their child care subsidy programs, but they can consider them as a method to support child care stability in regions with limited child care access.12
State policies for targeting the improvement of child care program quality are most often implemented through statewide Quality Rating and Improvement Systems, or QRIS. Forty-six states and Washington, DC have fully implemented QRIS to support increasing child care quality through demonstrated performance standards, including staff qualifications and facilities improvements.13 Similar to QRIS, accreditation evaluates the quality of child care programs according to professional standards. Achieving accreditation shows parents the child care program is committed to standards of quality and ongoing program improvement.
Faith-based accreditation can be included in QRIS as an alternative pathway for child care programs to achieve a higher quality rating. For example, nine states have fully accepted The Association of Christian Schools International’s accreditation protocol and are given a higher ranking in QRIS— Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, Virginia, and Washington.14
Finally, faith-based child care is eligible to participate in the Child and Adult Care Food Program, or CACFP, as long as the program meet licensing standards. As administered by the Department of Agriculture, CACFP subsidizes meals and snacks in participating child care programs.
In order to capture the full extent of faith-based child care’s impact on the country’s child care market, establishing state and federal policies and practices are necessary to elevate the role of faith-based child care. More data is needed to assist policymakers in understanding the share of faithbased child care in the overall market and to better understand the full picture of parent preferences.
- Authorize HHS to conduct a study of faith-based child care and categorize the share of the overall child care market.
- HHS can direct technical assistance to support states in engaging strategies that are inclusive of faith-based child care.
- Conduct a statewide assessment of the supply and demand of faith-based child care to understand child care capacity.
- Define and recruit diverse faith-based child care representatives to serve on State Advisory Councils and other stakeholder opportunities.
- Crosswalk faith-based accreditation with QRIS program standards and professional development systems.
- Review state CACFP regulations for compliance with cultural and religious food preference allowance in meal planning.
As reflected in BPC’s survey finding that over half, or 53%, of working families using a center-based child care program choose a faith-based child care program, faith-based child care maintains a significant presence in the child care market and enables parent choice.15 Faith-based child care may also provide the optimal setting for some children’s healthy development and learning. The need to cultivate a body of research and expand policy tables to be inclusive of faith-based child care will only serve to strengthen the diversity child care options that best meet the needs of working families and children.
1 Bipartisan Policy Center, Parent Child Care Preferences: Are They Changing?, January 2021, Available at https://bipartisanpolicy.org/event/parent-child-care-preferences-are-they-changing/
3 Pew Research Center Religion and Public Life, Event Transcript, Sacred Places, Civic Purposes: Child Care Conference, March 14, 2001, Available at: https://www.pewforum.org/2001/03/14/sacred-places-civic-purposes-child-care-conference/.
5 Lindner, E. W., Mattis, M. C., & Rogers, J. R. (1982). When churches mind the children: A study of day care in local parishes. Ypsilanti MI: The High/Scope Press.
6 Monica H. Rohacek, Gina Adams, and Kathleen Snyder, “Child Care Centers, Child Care Vouchers, and Faith-Based Organizations,” May 14, 2008, Available at: https://www.urban.org/research/publication/child-care-centers-child-carevouchers-and-faith-based-organizations.
7 Bipartisan Policy Center, Parent Child Care Preferences: Are They Changing?, January 2021, Available at https://bipartisanpolicy.org/event/parent-child-care-preferences-are-they-changing/.
9 Bipartisan Policy Center, Building Bipartisan Support for Child Care: A Toolkit, September 2019, Available at: https://bipartisanpolicy.org/%20building-bipartisan-support-for-child-care-a-toolkit/.
10 Federal Register, Final Rule, Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) Program, November 29, 2016, Available at: https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2016/09/30/2016-22986/child-care-and-development-fund-ccdf-program.
11 US Health and Human Services, What are the rules on funding religious activity with Federal money?, Available at: https://www.hhs.gov/answers/grants-and-contracts/what-are-the-rules-on-funding-religious-activity-with-federal-money/index.html.
12 Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) Program: Final Rule, 81 Federal Register 190, September 30, 2016, pp. 67438-67595. Available at: https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/FR-2016-09-30/pdf/2016-22986.pdf.
13 Child Care Aware of America, State by State Resources, Available at: https://www.childcareaware.org/resources/map/.
14 Interview with author, The Association of Christian Schools International, August 2020
15 Bipartisan Policy Center, Parent Child Care Preferences: Are They Changing?, January 2021, Available at https://bipartisanpolicy.org/event/parent-child-care-preferences-are-they-changing/
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