children play at daycare

Research on the Stability of Child Care Subsidies for Children and Families

Research BriefEarly ChildhoodOct 17 2023

Access to stable high-quality CCEE is beneficial for families and children. For families, access to CCEE is important because it allows them to work or continue their education.1,2 For children, high-quality CCEE can provide safe and enriching environments that support the development of their cognitive, language,3 and social-emotional skills.4 Positive relationships between children and adults in CCEE settings can help build a sense of security and safety and prepare children for future relationships.5 Yet the cost of high-quality CCEE is unattainable for some families. Child care subsidies can ease the cost burden for families and allow them to access high-quality care that may not have been affordable otherwise.

The Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) Act of 2014 provides formula-based grants to states, territories, and Tribes to administer child care subsidies to eligible families, typically through vouchers that can be used to attend CCEE programs. Families using subsidies must demonstrate their eligibility at regular intervals, a process associated with disruptions in their use of subsidies.6,7

Improving the stability of subsidies is important for children and their families as frequent or prolonged lapses of subsidy use can make it harder for children to stay in the same CCEE program, which can negatively affect a child’s development and parents’ ability to work or go to school.

To help promote subsidy stability, among other goals, the federal government passed the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act of 2014 and associated Final Rule in 2016, which contained important changes to the Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) program. One of the changes specified that families should go at least a year before being asked to document that they are still eligible to receive subsidies (i.e., 12 month eligibility period). Research has addressed various aspects of CCEE subsidies, including subsidy stability, and additional research is emerging about how the CCDF policy changes affect families’ experiences using subsidies.

The purpose of this highlight is to describe key findings from a research review on subsidy stability. The highlight defines key terms and provides an illustrative example, summarizes research on subsidy stability, describes potential administrative and policy obstacles that may make it harder for families to use subsidies, and shares resources for CCEE leaders interested in improving their subsidy programs. This information is particularly relevant for CCDF subsidies but is also applicable for other child care subsidy programs, such as state and local subsidy or scholarship programs.

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.


1 Enchautegui, M. E., Chien, N., Burgess, K., & Ghertner, R. (2016). Effects of the CCDF subsidy program on the employment outcomes of low income mothers. Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, US Department of Health and Human Services (US DHHS)

2 Ahn, H. (2012). Child care subsidy, child care costs, and employment of low-income single mothers. Children and Youth Services Review, 34(2), 379-87. 10.1016/j.childyouth.2011.11.010

3 Fontaine, N. S., Torre, D. L. & Grafwallner, R. (2006) Effects of quality early care on school readiness skills of children at risk. Early Child Development and Care, 176(1), 99-109, 10.1080/0300443042000270759

4 Funk, S. & Ho, J. (2018). Promoting young children’s social and emotional health. Young Children, 73(1), 1-19.

5 Mortensen, J.A. & Barnett, M.A. (2015) Teacher–child interactions in infant/toddler child care and socioemotional development. Early Education and Development, 26(2), 209-229. 10.1080/10409289.2015.985878

6 Pilarz, A. R., Claessens, A., & Gelatt, J. (2016). Patterns of child care subsidy use and stability of subsidized care arrangements: Evidence from Illinois and New York. Children and Youth Services Review, 65, 231-243.

7 Meyers, M., Peck, L., Davis, E., Collins, A., Kreader, L., Georges, A., Weber, R., Schexnayder, D., Schroeder, D., & Olson, J. (2022) The dynamics of child care subsidy use: A collaborative study of five states. National Center for Children in Poverty.