Principal Investigators: Tamara Halle, Kathryn Tout
Funded by: OPRE
Federal Project Officer: Ivelisse Martinez Beck

The purpose of the Child Care and Early Education Policy and Research Analysis (CCEEPRA) project is to support policy and program planning and decision-making with rigorous, research-based information gained through data collection, analysis and consultation from experts in early care and education (ECE). Through CCEEPRA, Child Trends identifies high priority issues in early care and education, develops activity plans to address the issues, and shares results and implications with state and federal stakeholders. Research topics and activities are selected in partnership with the Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation (OPRE) in the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) to ensure that the contract activities meet the needs of federal agencies serving low-income, at risk children and families and inform policies and practices related to the Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) program and other early childhood initiatives at ACF. The work is intended to address critical issues in early care and education while building the capacity for new research and evaluation efforts. In the CCEEPRA project Child Trends facilitates access to the most current research findings and innovative methodologies in the field.

CCEEPRA’s key research topics include:

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Administrative Data

Administrative data—the data about service providers, families, and children that are collected as part of program operations—can be used to address policy-relevant questions in early care and education (ECE). Through CCEEPRA, Child Trends has developed a range of resources to support the use of administrative data by state agency staff and their research partners. The CCEEPRA team:

Analysis of the National Survey of Early Care and Education (NSECE)

Researchers, policymakers, and state early care and education (ECE) administrators rely on data to inform recommendations and decisions regarding early care and education quality, workforce development, costs, and more. The National Survey of Early Care and Education (NSECE) 2012 provides an unprecedented national look at ECE providers in centers and homes, the ECE workforce in each setting, and households with young children. Through CCEEPRA, Child Trends is using the NSECE 2012 to examine several key questions related to the professional characteristics and development of the workforce, households’ search for and use of care, the price and quality of ECE, and how care and quality characteristics vary by geographic area, setting sponsor and other key contextual factors. In addition, Child Trends is combining the datasets to match families to the care in their area, allowing for greater understanding of how local child care market characteristics are related to families’ decision making and care use. The CCEEPRA team:

  • Developed a brief that examined the psychological distress of the ECE workforce.
  • Reviewed the literature on facilitators and barriers to professional development (PD), and then conducted an analysis of several facilitators and barriers to understand prevalence of such features and their impact on different types of PD. In development.
  • Using a multi-dimensional definition of early care and education access, linked families to the characteristics of care in their surrounding area to conduct a novel “slot:tot”-type analysis of access in the United States. In development.
  • Developed three complementary products on the demographic diversity of the ECE workforce, including the professional pathways by demographic factors, the demographic similarities between the workforce and children and communities they serve, and the concordance between home-based teachers’ race, ethnicity, languages spoken, and nativity status and the children directly in their care. In development.
  • Analyzed the association between center-based quality and prices charged for care. In development.
  • Developed a brief that describes families’ search for care and what searches will be successful given the families’ reason for searching for care and income. In development.

Child Care Development Block Grant (CCDBG) Policy

The 2014 reauthorization of the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) promoted access to safe, high quality early care and education (ECE) for low-income children through a variety of rules and provisions. The law includes requirements related to the administration of child care subsidies and to the implementation of quality initiatives. The law addresses equal access through requirements to conduct market rate surveys or use alternative methods that inform subsidy reimbursement rates. CCDBG aims to support supply-building and provider payment practices that improve access to ECE settings. The reauthorized law also required consumer education efforts to provide information about child care and critical services for children and families. Because the CCDBG is administered as a block grant, there is a wide range of variability in policy implementation and administrative practices across the nation. Through CCEEPRA, Child Trends conducts research to understand state variations in policies and outcomes for children and families. The CCEEPRA team:

Child Care Research Methods

A key goal of CCEEPRA is to support the production of high quality research through the development and use of state-of-the-art research tools and methods. Much of the work on research methods in CCEEPRA focused on defining and measuring key early care and education (ECE) concepts, such as quality and access, and providing guidance on use of state administrative data as well as measures for assessing children’s development, the quality and availability of ECE programs, and the readiness of organizations and ECE practitioners to make quality improvements in practices. The CCEEPRA team:

Child Care Subsidies

The Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) provides federal funds to states, territories, and tribes to administer child care subsidies, primarily through vouchers that eligible families use to pay for child care. In 2018, approximately 1.32 million children received child care subsidies in the United States. Through CCEEPRA, Child Trends analyzed research related to subsidies to identify key themes and lessons learned that can inform policy development. The CCEEPRA team:

  • Developed a synthesis of the literature that addressed subsidy usage, characteristics of families that receive subsidies, associations between use of subsidies and the quality of care received, and subsidy continuity, among other topics.
  • Produced an update of the 2013 Subsidy Literature Review that focused specifically on research related to the stability and continuity of subsidies. This topic is important considering the 2014 reauthorization of the Child Care and Development Block Grant.
  • Convened an expert panel and developed guidance on data and analysis to inform subsidy reimbursement rates.
  • Analyzed changes in subsidy policies and outcomes for children and families to understand the complex ways that subsidy policies interact with other contexts and related early care and education policies. In development.

Child Development

Supporting the development and well-being of young children and their families is the ultimate goal of early care and education (ECE) initiatives. Through CCEEPRA, Child Trends addresses ECE systems that support child development, such as professional development for the ECE workforce and quality improvement in ECE programs. Other projects more directly focus on child outcomes. These projects include the development of compendia of early childhood assessments and the articulation of conceptual frameworks for ECE systems that aim to support child development among an increasingly diverse child population in the United States. The CCEEPRA team:

Children with Disabilities

Identifying and supporting children with disabilities and their families is longstanding goal of federal and state efforts in early care and education (ECE). With the continued implementation of established programs such as Head Start and policies including the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), and a new emphasis of children with disabilities in the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), Child Trends addresses research to support federal and state efforts to improve outcomes for young children with disabilities. Through CCEEPRA, Child Trends focuses on key research issues such as definitions of disability across policies and programs, ECE access for children with disabilities, and identifying research gaps to better understand how the ECE system to supports young children with disabilities. The CCEEPRA team:

  • Developed a series of data snapshots that describe early care and education usage among families with young children with disabilities, the preparation and ongoing training of the ECE workforce related to children with disabilities, and the ways in which ECE programs provide supports such as referrals, transportation services, and other supports to families of children with disabilities. In development.
  • Supports the Children with Disabilities Workgroup which aims to bring together researchers studying programs and policies that support children with disabilities and their families. The workgroup identifies emerging research questions, as well as data and methodology needs to further research in this area. Additionally, the workgroup fosters sharing and collaborative research across disciplines (e.g. child development, early childhood special education, policy analysis, school psychology, early childhood education). The workgroup meets quarterly via virtual meeting to share presentations and discuss research and policy implications of the latest research findings.

ECE Access

Supporting access to safe, high quality early care and education (ECE) is a goal of the 2014 reauthorization of the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG). Because the CCDBG is administered as a block grant, there is a wide range of variability in policy implementation and administrative practices across the nation. Researchers and policymakers have addressed critical questions about how to define and measure access in ways that are actionable for decision-makers. Through CCEEPRA, Child Trends has synthesized research being conducted to understand and improve access to ECE, particularly for children from families with low incomes. The CCEEPRA team:

ECE Professional Development

The early childhood field aims to ensure that the early care and education (ECE) workforce has the knowledge, skills and dispositions necessary to meet the developmental needs of young children and their families. The National Academies of Science’s Committee on the Science of Children Birth to Age 8: Deepening and Broadening the Foundation for Success developed Transforming the Workforce for Children Birth Through Age 8: A Unifying Foundation which affirmed the importance of focusing on the professionalization of the workforce and supporting different pathways for growth within the profession (Institute of Medicine and National Research Council, 2015). Through CCEEPRA, Child Trends has addressed research gaps related to the associations between ECE workforce preparation and child outcomes, as well as described preparation of the workforce for supporting the development of diverse children in their care using the most current national estimates of the ECE workforce provided by the National Survey of Early Care and Education 2012. The CCEEPRA team:

ECE System-Building

State early care and education (ECE) systems are charged with administering a wide range of policies and programs to promote the well-being of children, families, and the workforce that serves them.  Through CCEEPRA, Child Trends has produced resources to support the development of infrastructure that supports early care and education systems, including licensing and monitoring, cross-sector connections, quality initiatives, subsidy policy, professional development for the ECE workforce, administrative data, and evaluation. The CCEEPRA team:

ECE Workforce

Teachers and caregivers in both center-based and home-based settings play a critical role in the delivery of high-quality care to children across the United States. It is important to understand the characteristics of the early care and education (ECE) workforce, the contexts in which they work, and the preparation and ongoing training they receive for supporting the growth and development of children of different ages and of varying physical and cognitive abilities. Through CCEEPRA, Child Trends has convened experts and conducted research to advance understanding about the professional and demographic characteristics of the ECE workforce, and how these characteristics can support child development for an increasingly diverse child population. The CCEEPRA team:

  • Produced a series of two briefs and one snapshot based on analyses of the National Survey of Early Care and Education (NSECE) 2012 that describe the professional and demographic characteristics of the ECE workforce.
    • One brief examined professional characteristics in combination with ECE teachers’ and caregivers’ racial/ethnic and linguistic diversity, as well as nativity status. In development.
    • A second brief examined the racial/ethnic and linguistic diversity of both the center-based and home-based workforces as they compare to the racial/ethnic and linguistic diversity of the children and communities they serve. In development.
    • A snapshot compared the demographic characteristics of home-based providers and children in their care. In development.
  • Produced a snapshot based on analyses of the NSECE 2012 focused on the initial training and ongoing professional development of the ECE workforce that serves children with disabilities. In development.
  • Produced two briefs that described characteristics of the infant/toddler workforce, with special focus on the initial training and ongoing professional development of the infant/toddler workforce.
  • Developed a brief based on analyses of the NSECE 2012 that examined the association of program characteristics such as receipt of benefits and funding for professional development and the well-being of the ECE workforce.
  • Developed a brief that provided a descriptive comparison of the ECE landscape across rural, moderate density urban (suburban), and high density urban areas. Included in this brief were comparisons of characteristics of the workforce operating in rural areas compared to more densely-populated communities. In development.
  • Convened subject matter experts and produced a white paper that proposed changes to the titles, definitions, and placement of the detailed occupations involving the ECE workforce in the Standard Occupational Classification, used by federal statistical agencies to classify workers and jobs into occupational categories for the purpose of collecting, calculating, analyzing, or disseminating data.
  • Supports the Professional Development and ECE Workforce Workgroup, a long-standing learning community for researchers that facilitates the exchange of information about (and consideration of key research gaps in) the study of characteristics of the early care and education workforce and supports for the workforce’s professional growth and quality improvement.
    • As part of this workgroup, Child Trends held a series of webinars focused on reporting research findings on the ECE workforce using a race/equity lens.

Families

The experiences families have in the early care and education (ECE) system shape their use of child care over time and their ability to find and maintain employment. Many provisions of the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) are aimed at improving families’ child care search process, access to care, the stability of care, and the quality of care their children receive. Through CCEEPRA, Child Trends and expert consultants have addressed the needs of families by understanding their experiences searching for, paying for, and using child care. The CCEEPRA team:

Home-Based Care

Home-based care providers are a diverse group of 3.8 million people that include licensed family child care programs and family, friend and neighbors who care for children on a regular basis. They differ in their educational qualifications, their experiences, their motivations for providing care and the activities they offer to support children’s growth and development. Through CCEEPRA, Child Trends has convened national experts and conducted research to describe and understand the landscape for home-based care providers. The work has implications for promoting the well-being of home-based providers and engaging them in activities to improve the quality of care. The CCEEPRA team:

  • Convenes the Home-Based Child Care Workgroup which serves as a learning community for national researchers focused on the characteristics of home-based providers, the quality of care children receive in home-based settings, and the quality improvement strategies that are most effective with this diverse group of providers. The workgroup includes researchers and federal and state policymakers and is convened on a quarterly basis to discuss new project work and issues related to home-based child care.
  • Convened an expert panel and produced a conceptual model of quality in home-based care that can be used to inform state and local efforts in developing quality improvement initiatives that engage and sustain home-based child care participation. The model is intended to promote conversations among researchers, policymakers, providers, and other stakeholders about potential steps for updating existing tools, measures, and resources for home-based child care.
  • Produced a literature review examining the participation of family child care providers (i.e., licensed or regulated home-based providers who offer paid care and are eligible to participate in state quality improvement initiatives) in Quality Rating and Improvement Systems. The brief outlines next steps for researchers and provides a set of recommended indicators for tracking engagement and quality improvement among family child care providers. In development.

Homelessness

High-quality early care and education is an important resource for families and young children experiencing homelessness. Through CCEEPRA, Child Trends has explored ways states are working to ensure that young children experiencing homelessness have access to early care and education, by understanding how they identify children experiencing homelessness for these programs, as well as exploring strategies used to promote access to care. The CCEEPRA team:

Implementation

Implementation science is the study of the process of implementing programs and practices that have some evidence from the research field to suggest they are worth replicating. It is the study of how a practice that is evidence-based or evidence-informed gets translated to different, more diverse contexts in the real world. In this way, effective implementation bridges the gap between science and practice. The importance of implementation has become more salient within the early childhood field in recent years as an essential component of early childhood program and system development, deployment, and effectiveness. Through CCEEPRA, Child Trends has created a learning community and individual products that aim to create a shared understanding of what it takes to have effective, replicable, and sustainable early childhood programs and systems in community-based settings. The CCEEPRA team:

  • Convened the Implementation Science Workgroup, a multidisciplinary workgroup of researchers, policymakers, and technical assistance providers interested in the application of implementation science to early childhood programs and systems, with quarterly calls and presentations held between February 2014 and February 2017.
  • Partnered with other CCEEPRA workgroups to add a focus on implementation in discussions of quality improvement initiatives (with INQUIRE) and workforce development efforts (with the Professional Development and ECE Workforce Workgroup).
  • Developed a brief that presents an integrated, stage-based framework for applying implementation stages and implementation processes to early childhood programs and systems.
  • Produced a guidebook, in collaboration with the National Center for Parent, Family, and Community Engagement, for early childhood practitioners and decisionmakers that presents steps and best practices for successfully selecting and implementing a parenting intervention in early childhood settings.
  • Produced a brief that examined current measurement tools for assessing the readiness of individuals and organizations within ECE settings to take on new practices or do existing practices in new ways.

Licensing

Licensing is a critical component of the early care and education (ECE) system. It sets the regulations for legally operating programs and reaches a large number of providers. Through CCEEPRA, Child Trends has developed resources to strengthen research on the role of licensing in monitoring providers and supporting quality. The CCEEPRA team:

Quality Improvement

Improving the quality of early care and education is a focal point for states’ early childhood investments. With the continued implementation of Quality Rating and Improvement Systems and other quality improvement initiatives, Child Trends provides research-based guidance to support state efforts.  Through CCEEPRA, Child Trends has addressed research gaps related to quality measurement, quality improvement strategies, validation of QRIS, and strengthening state systems to support early care and education quality. The CCEEPRA team:

  • Developed a brief that describes considerations for state ECE administrators and policymakers when selecting and using measures of quality in ECE settings. In development.
  • Produced a synthesis of findings from ten state QRIS validation studies and identified implications for research, policy, and practice.
  • Created a QRIS conceptual model that puts quality improvement at the center of the work. The model proposes multiple phases of program participation and offers metrics that states can use to track their progress on quality improvement. In development.
  • Convened state and federal agency staff, technical assistance staff, and researchers to generate a research agenda for supporting state quality improvement activities. In development.
  • Supports the Quality Initiatives Research and Evaluation Consortium (INQUIRE), a long-standing learning community and workgroup for researchers focused on early care and education quality improvement that provides input and information to state administrators, other policymakers, and practitioners on evaluation strategies, new research, the interpretation of research results, and implications for practice.

Rural

Much like the 7.8 million families with young children in urban areas, many of the 1.1 million families with young children in rural areas need and use early care and education (ECE). Families across the United States face challenges to accessing child care, and challenges often vary by population density. The literature suggests that, compared with suburban and urban areas, rural areas face a myriad of challenges that impact the need for, search for, and use of child care. These challenges range from limited employment opportunities, lack of transportation, and less access to higher education. Additionally, these challenges may contribute to differences in ECE availability, quality, and the types of care families use. Through CCEEPRA, Child Trends has addressed research gaps in understanding how ECE varies across rural, moderate density urban (suburban) and high density urban areas. In particular, we examined if ECE availability and characteristics in rural areas differ from those in more densely-populated communities. These findings will be synthesized in a forthcoming report. In development.