Blog

By Marsha Basloe, President, Child Care Services Association

Families with jobs and secure housing access child care through our country’s Child Care Resource & Referral network, friends and family and the internet.  Without child care, families experiencing homelessness struggle to secure housing. And yet, for these families, accessing child care offers two important benefits—the chance to be able to participate in job training, education, and other programs essential to resolving their homelessness and the opportunity to have a safe setting for children to grow!

Research has established a strong connection between a young child’s early experiences and the development of his or her brain structure. According to the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, the early years of life when more than 1 million new neural connections form every second, can provide a strong or weak foundation for all future learning, behavior and health.[1] We know that homelessness jeopardizes the health, early childhood development and educational well-being of infants, toddlers and preschool-aged children. It also creates unique barriers to participating in early care and education. With nearly 50% of children living in federally-funded homeless shelters under the age of five, this is a problem for families, communities, states and the country.

The Child Care and Development Block Grant Act of 2014, signed into law on November 19, 2014, reauthorized the Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) Program. The reauthorized law made significant advancements by defining health and safety requirements for child care providers, outlining family-friendly eligibility policies, and ensuring parents and the general public have transparent information about available child care choices.

The Administration for Children and Families (ACF) published the Final Rule to implement the Child Care and Development Fund program (CCDF) in September 2016. The full regulations may be read here.

The Rule included many items designed to remove barriers and better support young children and families experiencing homelessness. (CCDF Final Rule: Subsidy Eligibility and Homeless Provisions) It included:

  • The McKinney-Vento Act’s education definition of homelessness to be used by child care (and Head Start and public education), 
  • A grace period or flexibility to obtain immunizations and other documents needed so that  children experiencing homelessness can be served more quickly,
  • Outreach to homeless families with children,
  • Training and technical assistance in identifying and serving homeless children and their families,
  • The coordination of services so that families with children can get the help that they need, and
  • Data reporting to know how many families (and children) experiencing homelessness are receiving child care assistance.

States submitted 2016-2018 CCDF Plans and excerpts from Section 3.2.2., Improving Access to High Quality Child Care for Homeless Families, within State Plans were shared here. The state plans for 2016-2018 indicated that while many states had policies in place to help families experiencing homelessness access child care assistance, the majority of states were not yet adequately addressing those families’ unique needs.

The Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) Plan serves as the application for the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) funds by providing a description of, and assurance about, state child care programs and related services available to eligible families. The Office of Child Care reviews the Plans for approval.

The CCDF Plan also presents an opportunity for states to demonstrate the activities and services they are providing to meet the needs of low-income children and families. The Administration for Children and Families (ACF) makes Plans publicly available to many users including members of Congress, Congressional committees, State and local child care administrators, advocacy groups, researchers and the general public. For states looking for innovative ways to better meet the child care needs of families experiencing homelessness, the publication of the state plans serves as a clearinghouse of resources for states to replicate or customize to finetune their strategies to best support these families.

The 2019-2021 CCDF State Plans show that States have embraced the CCDF law and regulations with regard to serving families experiencing homelessness, making changes to policies and practice, including eligibility requirements, coordinating with partners, increasing access and providing professional development for those within the child care field to not only increase access to child care but also to ensure that families with children experiencing homelessness receive the support and services they need. These State Plans can be found here.

View other resources for early childhood homelessness here.


[1] Harvard University, Center on the Developing Child, Brain Architecture.

By Marsha Basloe, President, Child Care Services Association

During a child’s earliest years, brain development occurs that sets the architecture for all future learning (e.g., the wiring needed for healthy child development across social, emotional, physical, and cognitive areas).[1]  This is what makes high-quality child care for infants and toddlers so important.

At the same time, infant and toddler care is the hardest to find. The supply of infant and toddler care pales in comparison to the needs of working parents. A report by the Center for American Progress found that 44 percent of families in North Carolina live in a child care desert where the demand for child care by working families far exceeds the supply.[2]

Even when families can find it, too many struggle with the cost, particularly for infants and toddlers. Throughout North Carolina, the average annual price of child care for an infant in a child care center is $9,254.[3]  The average annual price of child care for an infant in a family child care home is $7,412.[4]

Data from: NC Labor

For perspective, for a single mother earning minimum wage ($7.25 per hour) working full-time, she would earn $15,080 per year. The cost of center-based infant care would be 61.4 percent of her income. The cost of infant care in a family child care home would be 49.2 percent of her income. If she earns twice the minimum wage ($14.50 per hour), about $30,160 per year – the cost of child care in a center would be 30.7 percent of her income. The cost of infant care in a family child care home would be 24.6 percent of her income. If she earns three times the minimum wage ($21.75 per hour), her annual income would be about $45,240 per year. Center-based infant care would cost 20.5 percent of her income; infant care in a family child care home would cost 16.4 percent of her income.

To help families with the cost of child care, the North Carolina Division of Child Development and Early Education (DCDEE) offers qualifying families a subsidy.[5] The state pays most of the cost and families have a 10 percent co-pay. Unfortunately, not all families who qualify can receive assistance and more than 30,000 eligible children throughout the state are on a waiting list for child care financial help.[6] It is important to note that the waiting list is only a snapshot in time because some families don’t join the list when they hear about the length of it. So, the waiting list reflects only those who qualify for help and who also add their names to the waiting list in case more funding becomes available to support additional families.

For families with infants and toddlers, the supply and cost are both struggles. It’s unrealistic to think that families can access the licensed market if they have to pay a huge percentage of their income to cover the cost. Why is that a concern to all North Carolina taxpayers? There are several reasons.

  • Quality of child care and long-term taxpayer bills. When parents can’t afford the licensed market, if they must stay in the workforce to make ends meet, then they will try to make do with a variety of unlicensed care options. Given the brain development that is underway during a child’s earliest years, it is critical that a child be in a setting that promotes his or her healthy development. That’s one of the reasons for the rated child care license[7] in North Carolina and one of the reasons the NC General Assembly restricted the receipt of child care subsidies to programs with at least a 3-star rating. Supporting healthy child development is important, particularly for infants and toddlers when the brain is developing the fastest.  Taxpayers will pay more in the long-term when a child enters kindergarten without the skills to succeed through additional costs for remediation, for special education, and for those children who must repeat a grade (e.g., repeating a grade is not “free”).
  • Labor force participation. Without affordable child care, parents reduce their hours or opt-out of the workforce. Ninety-four percent of workers involuntarily working part-time due to child care problems are women.[8] In North Carolina, 457,706 children under age 6 have working parents.[9] If one-third to one-half of these children under 6 are infants and toddlers, that’s 151,043 to 228,853 children who may need some type of child care while their parents work.
  • Employers & Employees. Employers depend on working parents. And, working parents with young children depend on some type of child care.

As the General Assembly meets to discuss budget priorities, child care assistance should be at the top of the list. Given the extraordinary cost of child care for infants and toddlers, the General Assembly may want to consider reviewing other models to support access to high-quality infant and toddler care.

In June 2018, the District of Columbia City Council unanimously passed the Birth to Three for All DC Act.[10] The legislation charts the path for a comprehensive system of supports for children’s healthy growth and development with a specific focus on services for families with infants and toddlers. The Act is broad — investing in home visiting and child developmental screening, however, with regard to child care for infants and toddlers, the Act expands child care subsidy eligibility for infants and toddlers to all families by 2027, caps the percentage of annual income a family would pay toward child care expenses at 10 percent of gross income by 2028, and phases in competitive compensation for early educators. The District is now in its second year of implementation with $16 million in funding for FY2020.[11] City Council members say it’s a high priority to increase funding as part of the 2021 budget, and work on that front is underway.[12]

There are certainly differences in passing legislation that supports a city (even a large city like Washington, D.C.) compared to a state. However, the concept is innovative. It recognizes that the cost of infant and toddler care is so high that all families may struggle with the cost. It recognizes that access to high-quality infant and toddler care is important to a child’s healthy development. And, it recognizes that a compensation strategy for the child care workforce is needed to support high-quality programs.

It is time to rethink the state’s approach to child care subsidy, and especially how families with infants and toddlers are supported in accessing high-quality child care. In the new year, let’s give thanks for what we have and think through policies that can best support our children in the future. 


[1] Harvard University Center on the Developing Child, Brain Architecture.

[2] Center for American Progress, America’s Child Care Deserts in 2018.

[3] Child Care Aware of America, The US and the High Price of Child Care: 2019.

[4] Ibid.

[5] NC Division of Child Development & Early Education: Subsidy Services.

[6] North Carolina Center for Public Policy Research, June 7, 2019.

[7] NC Division of Child Development & Early Education: Star Rated License.

[8] Committee for Economic Development, Child Care in State Economies: 2019 Update.

[9] U.S. Census Bureau, Table B23008, Age of Own Children Under 18 Years in Families and Subfamilies by Living Arrangements by Employment Status of Parents, 2018 American Community Survey, 1 Year Estimates.

[10] B22-0203 – Infant and Toddler Developmental Health Services Act of 2017 (now known as “Birth-to-Three for All DC Act of 2018”).

[11] Significant Birth to Three Funding Passes in the DC Council, May 28, 2019.

[12] D.C. reaped benefits of expanded preschool. Now we must focus on even younger children.

Written by Jennifer Gioia, CCSA Communications Manager

In October 2016, Michelle Roach received a call on a Tuesday morning—she would be fostering Jordan, a 6-day-old baby. “I wasn’t really prepared for actually searching for [child care],” Michelle said. “I’m a solo parent, so it was a big adjustment to do that, and as soon as he came into the home, we had a clock ticking. We had eight weeks at home with him and then he needed to find somewhere to go during the day.”

Parents often need a place to start as they begin their child care search. This is where Child Care Services Association’s Child Care Referral Central comes in. Child Care Referral Central is a trusted resource for families looking for child care, helping them find care based on their needs and providing information and resources at their request.

“We are in a unique position to link families, child care providers and the community together, so that parents can get all their child care answers in one place,” said Christy Thalheimer, referral manager at CCSA’s Child Care Referral Central.

“By going to Child Care Services Association, it really did allow me to have one place where I could ask my questions,” Michelle said. “I could get more information about both center-based [child care] but also family-based [child care]. I was able to sit down with a counselor and talk about what resources I had available to me, the subsidy through [the Department of Social Services] and what was available in the community.”

CCSA’s referral counselors can walk a family through all their child care options at each age of their children. From infant care to after school care, CCSA’s Child Care Referral Central can provide the tools families need to find the right child care for their children.

Often people see child care resource and referral programs (CCR&Rs) as only available to families who are most at risk due to poverty or special circumstances. While the Department of Social Services (DSS) offers a Child Care Subsidy program that uses state and federal funds to provide subsidized child care services to eligible families, finding the right child care is an important piece of the work-life puzzle for every family, no matter their income. Community members often ask if services are only for those in financial need, but CCSA’s Child Care Referral Central is available to every family in the nine-county area of Alamance, Caswell, Durham, Franklin, Granville, Orange, Person, Vance and Wake counties.

Silvana Rodriguez was Michelle’s child care counselor at Child Care Referral Central. She has been a counselor for more than seven years.

“[Michelle] walked into the office…and then told me that she was a first time parent, she was going to receive an infant and she was nervous about the whole process,” Silvana said. “So, I answered all of her questions. She had several questions about the types of care, the differences between them, and then I did a [customized] search for her based on [her work and home addresses]…We talked about national accreditation and what to look for, and then after that, we made a package for her with all the different information that may be useful for her.”

“One of the things, it was so small but it helped me so much, was that all of that information was placed in one packet and handed to me,” Michelle said. “In the chaos of my life of having a newborn and figuring everything out, having this one place I could go back to with all the phone numbers and all the information about ratings and other really helpful things in one spot made something that could have been really overwhelming more manageable. I was able to periodically when I had the time, make phone calls, set up tours and narrow down where he ended up going between two really high-quality centers. I picked one that was closer to my work, and I was really happy with the results from that.”

Silvana loves helping families like Michelle’s.

“That’s the thing that drives all us counselors because you can see the results when you follow up with them, and especially when they find a great quality place, and just going through their options and helping them navigate everything in terms of finding child care,” Silvana said.

“[CCSA’s Child Care Referral Central] made the already challenging process of being a solo parent and figuring out the process of DSS and foster care, and also just the challenge that every parent faces when they have to go back to work, which is that you’re leaving your tiny human being with other people, to really make that easier and to make me feel better about that process and more comfortable with him being there and knowing that he would be cared for in a reputable space,” Michelle said. “I didn’t have the pressure of having to Google or guess. I had all that information in one spot, and for me, that really made all the difference.”

Jordan turns three at the end of next month. He’s is “graduating” from Early Head Start and will transition over to another classroom in the same center mid-August. Michelle has thought about reaching out to CCSA again to speak with a counselor about more child care options. “I’m hoping to participate in the Universal Pre-K program next August,” Michelle said.

You can hear more about Michelle’s story by watching the video below.

To continue supporting the operations of Child Care Services Association and crucial programs such as the Child Care Referral Central, please donate today.

On Thursday, June 7, 2018 the North Carolina Early Education Coalition (the Coalition) took Raleigh by storm with the first Strolling Thunder event at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences and Bicentennial Plaza. Click here to read more about how the Coalition brought families with young children and other early childhood advocates to the NC General Assembly to raise public awareness and speak with their policymakers about making the potential of every baby in North Carolina a top priority.