In an effort to help more working families access quality child care and improve safety at child care facilities throughout the country, the U.S. Senate is scheduled to debate bipartisan legislation this week that includes key provisions authored by U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI). The Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) Act of 2014 seeks to upgrade educational, safety, and health standards for child care facilities that receive federal funding. The legislation incorporates key provisions from Reed's Child Care Quality Incentive Act, which would require states to pursue a market-based and quality-based process for setting payment rates and set aside more money to improve the care children receive. It would also mandate stronger safety requirements for child care providers, including better background checks, annual inspections, and health and safety standards, such as first aid and CPR training for staff.
Last year, states received a total of $5.3 billion from the child care and development fund, which includes CCDBG assistance, to help benefit 1.6 million children per month nationwide and help low and moderate income parents access and afford child care while they work or attend school.
"This is about supporting working families. It's an opportunity to make national improvements to child care quality and give more working moms and dads peace of mind knowing that their children are in a safe, healthy, and enriching environment," said Reed, a member of the Appropriations Committee who helped increase CCDBG funding by $154 million last year above FY 2013 levels. "Expanding access to high-quality, affordable child care should be a bipartisan priority. Investing in child care and early education programs is good for our children, families, and for our economy both now and in the future."
CCDBG is a formula block grant to states that serves an average of 5,700 children in Rhode Island each month. Eligible families receive vouchers to select the provider of their choice. The state of Rhode Island administers the program and provides vouchers to families below 180 percent of the federal poverty level, or 46 percent of the state median income. Families are also expected to contribute to the cost of care on a sliding scale.
The program is funded with a combination of discretionary and mandatory funding. Last year, Rhode Island received a total of $16.8 million in federal child care subsidies from CCDBG.
In a 2013 national report on child care centers, the non-profit advocacy group Child Care Aware of America ranked Rhode Island number 27 overall. It gave the state high marks for program requirements (5th best in the nation), but low marks for oversight of child care facilities (47th in the nation).
The Child Care and Development Block Grant has not been reauthorized since 1996. At that time, the primary focus of the program was to enable people to move from welfare to work.
"This law has not been revised for some time," noted Reed. "Today, knowing the critical importance of early brain development and the role early education plays in school readiness and successful outcomes for young people, we must work to achieve the dual goals of CCDBG to ensure affordable and quality child care options for children and families. We cannot achieve these goals without addressing the issue of payment rates, the level at which states reimburse child care providers who care for low-income children who receive a child care subsidy."
The bill before the Senate includes some key provisions authored by Reed, such as requiring states to conduct a statistically valid and reliable survey of market rates for child care, report the results of the survey publicly, and set the rates based on the survey results, taking into consideration the cost of providing higher quality care. Raising the payment rates for child care is an integral component to improving quality.
Key enhancements in the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act of 2014 include:
Improving program quality, while simultaneously ensuring that federal funds support low-income and at-risk children and families
States must set aside 3 percent of funding to expand access and improve the quality of care for infants and toddlers.
In addition, the amount states set aside for quality improvement activities must be at least 10 percent within five years of enactment and states must report on what activities they choose to invest in.
States must describe how they are prioritizing quality care for children from low-income families in areas of concentrated poverty or unemployment.
Safeguarding the Health and Safety of Children
States must provide pre-service health & safety training to all CCDBG providers.
States must develop health & safety standards related to things such as: First Aid & CPR training, prevention of sudden infant death syndrome, and child abuse prevention.
States must perform at least one annual inspection of licensed CCDBG providers.
States must perform at least one pre-licensure inspection of CCDBG providers.
States must explain how providers who are license-exempt provide care that does not endanger the health or development of children.
Individuals who provide care for children with the support of CCDBG funding must undergo a background check.
Addressing the nutritional and physical activity needs of children in child care settings
Allows quality funds to support the development of guidelines relating to health, mental health, nutrition, physical activity and development for young kids.
Incorporates the health and wellness needs of children into professional development.
Focuses on the needs of children with disabilities
Strengthening coordination and alignment to contribute to a more comprehensive early childhood education and care system
Emphasizes the improvement of service coordination & delivery as a purpose of the law.
Requires states to consult with their Early Learning Advisory Councils, mandated through Head Start, on major decisions.
Requires States to coordinate with existing early education and care programs.
Ensures continuity for families by allowing initial eligibility to be determined for at least one year.
If the legislations is approved by Congress and signed into law, the new requirements would apply only to day care facilities, including in-home daycare businesses, in which a child's family receives a subsidy under the federal program. However, Senator Reed and child care advocates hope the provisions in the legislation will become the industry standard for all child care facilities.