How States Can Use Early Care and Education Provider Surveys to Develop COVID-19 Response Strategies

Publication Date:

August 13, 2020



The COVID-19 pandemic has elevated the importance of child care, not only for working families but for the whole economy. The workforce cannot fully return to normal work patterns without safe, reliable child care available. States play an important role in responding to the COVID-19 crisis by ensuring access to child care for essential workers, interpreting and issuing guidance for health and safety in early care and education (ECE) programs, and supporting ECE providers by assessing their needs in an ever-changing environment. The ongoing availability of safe and healthy ECE programs is essential for addressing this emergency and will be critical for reopening communities and restarting economic activity.

As part of ensuring a strong ECE system, states must promote racial and ethnic equity for both ECE providers and families of color who face unique risks during the pandemic. A large proportion of the ECE workforce consists of women of color who earn very low wages without benefits (e.g., sick leave, health insurance, vacation),1 leaving them vulnerable to the impacts of the current health crises. Race is also a factor in the labor market forces that determine which families need child care (e.g., families of members of the essential workforce) and when they need it. For example, Black and Hispanic workersi are also less likely to be able to work from home, and are therefore more likely to need child care during the pandemic.2 By prioritizing racial and ethnic equity during recovery, states can ensure that disparities based on race/ethnicity are not exacerbated during this crisis.

This action guide provides state leaders with concrete strategies to survey child care providers throughout the pandemic about their needs and the needs of families and children they serve. The guide provides sample questions and offers equity considerations for state leaders as they develop provider surveys and interpret results that support an equity-focused, data-driven response to the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting recession. Surveys of providers are a way to gather important information about what type of care they can provide, for whom, for how long, and under what conditions. Surveys are particularly helpful when administrative data about ECE providers are not available. Because of the changing nature of the pandemic, providers’ circumstances will shift over time. Providers consider many factors when determining whether and how to provide care, including their own health, the financial viability of their businesses, the demand for care from essential workers and other families in their area, the availability of supplies to keep their programs safely operating, and the availability of staff (among others). The sample provider survey questions illustrate how states can uncover challenges facing providers, as well as the potential inequities that face providers of color and providers serving primarily families of color.

This action guide accounts for providers’ shifting needs and circumstances, and is structured around three phases of recovery to ensure that provider surveys produce timely and useful information:

Phase 1 – Stabilize: During this phase, state and community leaders work to meet the immediate needs of families and minimize spread of the virus. For ECE programs and providers, the focus is on providing care for the children of essential workers in a way that protects the health of both children and providers. Leaders must also understand whether ECE programs will struggle to reopen so that they can tailor resources and guidance to the ECE workforce and ensure adequate child care supply to the families that need it.

Phase 2 – Rebuild: During this phase, state and community leaders will refine and develop new policies to address the loss of child care programs by supporting new and returning providers. Child care begins to reopen with new health regulations, and leaders develop new policies and practices to rebuild lost ECE programs by expanding and supporting the ECE workforce and promoting economic stability and employment opportunities for parents.

Phase 3 – Grow and strengthen: During this phase, states shift away from rebuilding in direct response to the pandemic and focus on implementing new policies and practices that strengthen ECE programs, the workforce, and families. During this phase, leaders must continuously assess how well policies and practice are achieving their intended goals.

Footnote and References


iAs used by the Office of Management and Budget and the Census Bureau, Hispanic ethnicity can be a characteristic of people who identify as any race. In this action guide, we use “Black” and “White” to refer to non-Hispanic members of those racial groups.


1 Whitebook, M., McLean, C., Austin, L.J.E., & Edwards, B. (2018). Early Childhood Workforce Index – 2018. Berkeley, CA: Center for the Study of Child Care Employment, University of California, Berkeley. Retrieved from
2 Gould, E., & Shierholz, H. (2020, March 19). Not everybody can work from home | Black and Hispanic workers are much less likely to be able to telework [blog post]. Retrieved from