COVID-19 Research, Evaluation, and Data Agenda for Child Care and Early Education

Research BriefEarly ChildhoodDec 3 2021

The context for child care and early education (CCEE) changed rapidly in March 2020 as the global pandemic caused the closure of child care programs and schools, widespread job loss, and negative impacts on the broader economy and family life. Black and Latino families and families with lower income experienced disproportionately negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic as a result of structural racism and a history of inequitable systems. Many of the negative impacts of the pandemic have directly impacted families’ access to high-quality CCEE. For example, the pandemic created a drastic decline in the supply of licensed child care,a which disproportionately impacted Black and
Latino people who were more likely to be working as essential workers in frontline jobs (and in need of child care) than White or Asian people.b Data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Pulse Survey conducted in spring 2021 indicated that more than one five Black and Latino families with young children had experienced a child care disruption within the past four weeks due to COVID-19.c Furthermore, Black and Latino families and families with lower incomesd experienced the negative financial impacts of the pandemic (e.g., having trouble paying bills, lost wages due to being laid off from a job, etc.) at disproportionately higher rates compared to the overall population.e As a result, many families have had reduced income to cover child care costs.

As leaders in CCEE consider the implications of COVID-19 for children, families, policies, and programs, a research, evaluation, and data agenda that identifies key questions, research methods, and data needs will be a critical tool. This research, evaluation, and data agenda can (1) alert decision makers to racial and economic inequities in outcomes and promote tracking of key equity indicators, (2) encourage the development of new projects and data initiatives, (3) support the synthesis of information across projects, (4) identify key topics for consideration that may be otherwise overlooked, and (5) promote the application of knowledge to planning and development.

Through the Child Care and Early Education Policy Research and Analysis (CCEEPRA) project with the Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation (OPRE), Child Trends engaged CCEE experts and stakeholders to support development of a research agenda for the CCEE field in response to COVID-19. The goal of this engagement was to get input on high priority questions that can inform the field’s understanding of the pandemic’s impact on the CCEE landscape, including children, families, CCEE programs (licensed child care centers, licensed family child care programs, license exempt but legally operating center- and home-based programs, home-based care provided by family, friend, and neighbors, Head Start, and state pre-kindergarten), the CCEE workforce, and the broader system of agencies, local organizations, and institutes of higher education that support CCEE.f

The purpose of this work is to develop and revise a research, evaluation, and data agenda that can be used by a wide range of stakeholders (state administrators, policymakers, advocates, funders, etc.) to prioritize research questions that need to be addressed and identify potential data sources to answer these questions (the following section provides further details about the purpose and value of the research agenda). While the agenda emerged from needs identified during the pandemic, it has broader use and applicability for the field, as it calls attention to the need to address longstanding challenges and inequities in CCEE.


a Child Care Aware (2021). Analysis shows child care supply an attendance better, but still suffering.

b Smith, L & Tracey, S. (2020). What will parents choose? Parent preferences and a disrupted child care system. Bipartisan Policy Center.

c Chen, Y., Ferreira van Leer, K., & Guzman, L. (2021). Many Latino and Black Households Made Costly Work Adjustments in Spring 2021 to Accommodate COVID-Related Child Care Disruptions. Child Trends.

d The Pew Research study noted “Family incomes are based on 2019 earnings and adjusted for differences in purchasing power by geographic region and for household sizes. Middle income is defined here as two-thirds to double the median annual family income for all panelists the American Trends Panel. Lower income falls below that range; upper income falls above it.”

e Parker, K., Minkin, R., & Bennett, J. (2020). Economic Fallout from COVID-19 Continues to Hit Lower-Income Americans the Hardest. Pew
Research Center.

f The first phase of the research agenda project did not explicitly address school-age care. The next phase of the project will focus on early
care and education and school-age care.

This brief is part of the Child Care and Early Education Policy and Research Analysis (CCEEPRA) project. CCEEPRA supports policy and program planning and decision-making with rigorous, research-based information.