a young boy plays with blocks

Selected State Approaches to Support Infant and Toddler Care and Education

Early ChildhoodNov 30 2023

Despite the relative increase in early care and education (ECE) investment over recent decades, access to infant and toddler care continues to be a hurdle for countless families across the nation.[i] While access is a multifaceted issue, main contributors include a lack of available slots and the high cost of providing care to infants and toddlers.[ii] Federal programs intended to increase access to high-quality care (e.g., Child Care and Development Fund [CCDF] subsidy) have strict eligibility requirements and only reach a fraction of eligible families.[iii] As a result, families of infants and toddlers may be forced to choose from a limited array of ECE options or leave the workforce to care for their child. Simultaneously, insufficient compensation, demanding conditions, and minimal supports contribute to challenges with ECE workforce recruitment and retention.[iv] These factors suggest a need for effective policies and practices to help families find and use affordable care that meets the needs of their infants and toddlers.

This document highlights various strategies that states have used to strengthen the infant and toddler workforce and system of care. While each strategy is described individually, some are combined with other strategies in practice. Strategies described in this resource address the following topic areas:

1. Supply of infant toddler care

2. Workforce standards and professional support

3. Compensation


This resource was originally developed in support of the North Carolina Birth to Five Preschool Development Grant (PDG B-5). To help identify promising policies and practices in the field, this scan used a framework introduced by Zero to Three[1] and the Center for Law and Social Policy[2] (CLASP), which identifies the following needs of infants, toddlers, and their families: 1) healthy bodies, healthy minds, and healthy parents; 2) economically stable families; 3) strong parents; and 4) high-quality ECE opportunities.[v] Based on priorities for the PDG B-5 work, this scan focuses on a select set of state policy and program approaches to support high-quality ECE opportunities.

A team of Child Trends staff reviewed databases (e.g., the Prenatal to Three Policy Roadmap, the State of Babies Yearbook); reports; policy tools (e.g., the Child Care State Capacity Building Center tool for strengthening quality of care for infants and toddlers); and public and unpublished memos to identify common and innovative strategies states used to promote positive early learning experiences for infants and toddlers. The team also reviewed evaluation reports, as available, to understand strengths and challenges that states experienced when designing or implementing various strategies. In some cases, we also document how strategies used to support children ages 3 and above may be applicable to the infant and toddler population.

This document is not intended to be comprehensive, but instead highlights a select set of strategies states are exploring to address challenges in promoting positive early learning experiences for infants and toddlers. Throughout the following sections, we include information about the number of states known to be engaging in each strategy (when available), highlight examples to illustrate how states are applying each strategy, and provide additional resources for further reading.


[1] Zero to Three is a national nonprofit organization that works to improve the lives of infants and toddlers.

[2] CLASP is national nonprofit organization that works to advance policy solutions for people with low incomes.


[i] Henly, J. R. & Adams, G. (2018). Insights on access to quality child care for infants and toddlers. Urban Institute. https://www.urban.org/sites/default/files/publication/99147/insights_on_access

[ii] Henly, J. R. & Adams, G. (2018). Insights on access to quality child care for infants and toddlers. Urban Institute. https://www.urban.org/sites/default/files/publication/99147/insights_on_access

[iii] Ullrich, R., Schmit, S., & Cosse, R. (2019). Inequitable access to child care subsidies. CLASP. https://www.clasp.org/sites/default/files/publications/2019/04/2019_inequitable

[iv] McLean, C., Austin, L. J. E., Whitebook, M. & Olson, K. L. (2021). Early childhood workforce index – 2020. Center for the Study of Child Care Employment, University of California, Berkeley. https://cscce.berkeley.edu/workforce-index-2020/report-pdf/

[v]  Ullrich, R., Cole, P., Gebhard, B., Matthews, H., & Schmit, S. (2017). Policy framework for infants, toddlers, and families. Zero to Three. https://www.zerotothree.org/resource/building-strong-foundations-a-policy-framework-for-infants-toddlers-and-families

Suggested citation

Harris, P., Pines, A., & Diamond, Z. (2023). Selected state approaches to support infant and toddler care and education. Child Trends. https://doi.org/10.56417/4368a6142a