The 2016 Child Care and Development Fund Final Rule was finalized late last month by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), updating regulations to incorporate and clarify changes made through the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act of 2014.
The Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) is the primary federal funding source devoted to improving the quality of care for all children and to helping low-income families who work or participate in education pay for child care. The federal program is also among the five largest funding streams that support local providers in offering quality afterschool programming for school-age children. CCDF provides child care financial assistance for 1.4 million children each month throughout the United States, U.S. Territories and Tribal Nations. CCDF investments in improving the quality of care also benefit millions more of the nation’s children who do not receive a child care subsidy, but who participate in child care programs that benefit from these quality investments, such as program staff and teacher training.
On November 19, 2014, President Obama signed into law bipartisan legislation that comprehensively updated the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) Act for the first time in nearly twenty years. The law focused on strengthening child care to better support the success of both parents and children, while also providing a new emphasis on the importance of providing high-quality early education and care for children under the age of five.
The final rule updates CCDF regulations for the first time since 1998 to make them consistent with the new law. The rule applies to states, territories and tribes administering CCDF and reflects more than 150 comments received on the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) published in December 2015. The Afterschool Alliance provided comments on the proposed rule, several of which were incorporated into the final rule.
The final rule recognizes the important role of school-age afterschool programs, stating:
|"Research also confirms that consistent time spent in afterschool activities during the elementary school years is linked to narrowing the gap in math achievement, greater gains in academic and behavioral outcomes, and reduced school absences. (Auger, Pierce, and Vandell, Participation in Out-of-School Settings and Student Academic and Behavioral Outcomes, presented at the Society for Research in Child Development Biennial Meeting, 2013). An analysis of over 70 after-school program evaluations found that evidence-based programs designed to promote personal and social skills were successful in improving children's behavior and school performance. (Durlak, Weissberg, and Pachan, The Impact of Afterschool Programs that Seek to Promote Personal and Social Skills in Children and Adolescents, American Journal of Community Psychology, 2010). After-school programs also promote youth safety and family stability by providing supervised settings during hours when children are not in school. Parents with school-aged children in unsupervised arrangements face greater stress that can impact the family's well-being and successful participation in the workforce. (Barnett and Gareis, Parental After-School Stress and Psychological Well-Being, Journal of Marriage and the Family, 2006)."|
The Office of Child Care (OCC) at HHS summarized the major changes in the CCDBG Act and the CCDF final rule into categories.
Here are the four categories of changes made:
1) Protecting the health and safety of children in child care;
2) Helping parents make informed consumer choices and access information to support child development;
3) Supporting equal access to stable, high quality child care for low-income children; and
4) Enhancing the quality of child care and better support the workforce.
1. Health and safety of children in child care
Prior to the new law, health and safety standards varied widely across states and left critical gaps. The law and final rule establish a baseline for health, safety and quality, ensuring children are adequately protected and are in nurturing environments that support their healthy growth and development.
The requirements include, but are not limited to:
2. Parents making smart, informed choices
A key pillar of CCDF is parental choice, and providing families clear and accurate information about child care providers can help them make sound decisions for their families. The final rule, which will reach beyond those directly served by CCDF, ensures that parents have specific information on provider options and available services. This includes, but is not limited to, requiring states to:
3. Equal access to stable, high-quality child care for low-income families
Prior to the new law, many families received subsidies for only a short period and frequently cycled on and off the program, leading to significant instability for families. Provider subsidy payment rates and other policies and practices were also insufficient to allow low-income families to afford high quality care. The law and this final rule lengthen eligibility periods so families have more stable subsidies while also supporting continuity of care and relationships between children and their providers. These and other reforms in the law and rule also encourage more providers to care for children receiving subsidies. This includes, but is not limited to:
4. Quality of child care and the early childhood workforce
Despite extensive research on how early learning shapes brain development, many children are in child care settings that do not lay a strong foundation for future learning and life, or do not have access to stable, quality child care. The law and rule address these concerns, in part, by the following:
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