Early Head Start Child Care Partnerships Annotated Bibliography

Research BriefEarly ChildhoodJan 18 2019


Partnerships between Early Head Start (EHS)/Head Start and child care programs have existed for many years. In 2014, the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) granted funds to establish Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships (EHS-CCPs) with the goal of expanding access to high-quality early learning programs to meet the needs of low-income working families with infants and toddlers. ACF has funded 275 grantee partnerships across all states and in all 10 ACF regions.

This annotated bibliography highlights the existing literature available on EHS/Head Start child care program partnerships. It is intended for early care and education (ECE) researchers, policymakers, and practitioners interested in using best practices and research to inform their work. We also draw attention to forthcoming research on EHS-CCPs that received federal funding in 2014, including the National Study of Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships and several local EHS-CCP evaluations currently underway.

Key Findings

Overall, the research on EHS/Head Start and child care partnerships is mostly descriptive (17 of 21 studies for which we have complete, published information). Most of the descriptive studies include interviews, focus groups, or surveys of partnership administrators and staff and child care partners. Five descriptive studies also include interviews, focus groups, and/or surveys with parents. The remaining four studies use an experimental design. Additionally, six studies included quality observations of partnership program classrooms and two studies included information on child outcomes (see Appendix A for a table of study characteristics and themes by research study).

The research addresses topics including: how EHS and Head Start programs are partnering with center and home-based child care providers; the successes, challenges, and lessons learned from the partnerships; whether partnerships improve program quality; and whether children participating in partnerships have better outcomes.

Eleven studies reported successes of EHS/Head Start child care partnerships, including:

  • Increases in providers’ professional credentials (e.g., earning a CDA) (Buell, et al., 2002; Buell, et al., 2001; Edwards, et al., 2002) and professional development (Buell, et al., 2002; Ceglowski, 2006; Del Grosso, et al., 2011; Edwards, et al., 2002; Etter & Cappizano, no date; Paulsell, et al., 2003; Schilder, et al., 2005);
  • Acquisition of additional materials and equipment for child care programs (Buell, et al.,2001; Ceglowski, 2006; Paulsell, et al., 2003; Schilder, et al., 2005);
  • Support for staff around curriculum implementation and program organization and structure (Buell, et al., 2002; Buell, et al., 2001; Etter & Cappizano, no date; Schilder, et al., 2003); and
  • Increases in the availability of high-quality care for families, offering families comprehensive services (Del Grosso, et al., 2011; Etter & Cappizano, no date; Lim, et al., 2007; Schilder, et al., 2005), and parents’ satisfaction with the care provided for their children (Ceglowski, 2006; Etter & Cappizano, no date).

Eight studies reported challenges of the partnerships, including:

  • Child care providers having trouble meeting Head Start Program Performance Standards (HSPPS) (Buell, et al., 2001; Rohacek, 2001);
  • Differences in aligning child care and Head Start program cultures, operating hours and days, and fiscal requirements (California Head-Start State Collaboration Office, 2000; Kiron, E., 2003; Rohacek, 2001); and
  • Misalignment of policies across EHS/Head Start, licensing, and child care subsidy regulations, such as policies on ratios and group size, absences, and family eligibility criteria (Buell, et al., 2001; California Head-Start State Collaboration Office, 2000; Campbell, 2002; Ceglowski, 2006; Paulsell, et al., 2002).

Lessons learned from the partnerships include:

  • EHS/Head Start and child care programs with existing relationships might be able to begin collaborating more quickly (Ceglowski, 2006), whereas partners with a more limited history of collaboration should invest time in creating agreements that set clear roles and expectations (Rohacek, 2001; Schilder, et al., 2005; Schilder, et al., 2003); and
  • Fiscal knowledge of Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) and Head Start can be critically important to child care providers’ ability to meet new standards (Kiron, 2003).

With regard to partnerships and observed program quality, some studies found greater improvements in observed quality associated with longer participation in a partnership (Etter & Cappizano, no date; Ontai, et al., 2002; Schilder, et a.l, 2009). In addition, comparative studies show differences in observed quality between centers involved in a partnership and centers not involved in a partnership. Classrooms in child care centers partnering with EHS or Head Start demonstrated significantly higher observed classroom quality than comparison classrooms (Edwards, et al., 2002; Schilder, et al., 2009; and Schilder, et al., 2015).

While only two studies examined child outcomes, the findings are promising. One study found that on average, children at Head Start partnership centers were more likely than children at centers not participating in a partnership with Head Start to demonstrate significant improvements on some language and literacy sub-scales of child assessment measures. These sub-scales included measures of phonological awareness and upper-case letter recognition (Schilder, et al., 2009). Another comparison of Head Start partnerships in family child care and center-based settings found that by the end of the program year, children participating in family child care homes performed as well as those in center-based classrooms on cognitive measures and social-emotional scales (Faddis, et. al, 2000).

Finally, the majority (6 of 8) of policy reports included in this bibliography address the state role in supporting EHS-CCPs and how states can better align Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) and EHS policies. One report examines how CCDF and EHS programs can better align policies at the federal level to support EHS-CCPs, and one report describes the first year of implementation of the EHS-CCPs nationwide.

Forthcoming local Early Head Start-Child Care Partnership evaluation findings

All five of the forthcoming EHS-CCP local evaluations are descriptive and include interviews, focus groups, and surveys. Two of these evaluations also included a document review, and two included observations of classroom quality (using the Quality of Caregiver-Child Interactions for Infants and Toddlers (Q-CCIIT)). Researchers conducting one of these evaluations also plan to conduct an impact study with a quasi-experimental design that will include an assessment of child outcomes.

Four of the local EHS-CCP evaluations had preliminary findings from their studies available to share. Key findings on partnership successes included:

  • Increased staff education and training, improvements in physical settings, and increased opportunities to offer comprehensive services (Younoszai, forthcoming; Chazan Cohen, et al., forthcoming; Jones-Harden & Tirrell-Corbin, forthcoming; Zaslow & Halle, forthcoming);
  • Decreased feelings of isolation and increased feelings of belonging among child care partners (Younoszai, forthcoming);
  • Easier processes for enrolling children with subsides (Jones-Harden & Tirrell-Corbin, forthcoming); and
  • Parental satisfaction with care (Younoszai, forthcoming; Zaslow & Halle, forthcoming) and increased feelings of empowerment (Zaslow & Halle, forthcoming).

Partnership challenges identified in the local evaluations included:

  • Meeting the required adult-child ratios, meeting enrollment requirements, and finding and maintaining qualified staff (Chazan Cohen, et al., forthcoming; Zaslow & Halle, forthcoming);
  • Finding and retaining family engagement specialists (Jones-Harden & Tirrell-Corbin, forthcoming); and
  • Misalignment of standards and regulations across systems and increased, duplicative paperwork (Chazan Cohen, et al., forthcoming; Zaslow & Halle, forthcoming).

To address some of the challenges that partnerships experience, one evaluation suggests that federal and state agencies need to better coordinate EHS funding in communities across the country. The evaluators also recommend increasing partnership start-up time to two years (Chazan Cohen, et al., forthcoming). Another study suggests that building strong relationships between grantee staff and child care partners facilitates successful partnerships (Zaslow & Halle, forthcoming).