California: The Comprehensive Approaches to Raising Educational Standards (CARES) Program and CARES Plus

Jan 11, 2010

(Updated August 19, 2010)


The First 5 California Comprehensive Approaches to Raising Educational Standards (CARES) program is a professional development and retention program that aims to build a highly-qualified and culturally and linguistically diverse early childhood workforce. Open to all ends of the spectrum of those caring for children from 0 to 5-from family, friend and neighbor (FFN) caregivers to licensed family child care providers and center-based teachers and directors, the program offers financial incentives and other supports and services to increase the pursuit of training and education and reduce turnover in the early learning field. In FY 2007-2008, about 43 percent of CARES program participants worked with infants and toddlers.

The CARES program was established by First 5 California in response to growing concerns among child care advocates about the lack of a skilled, stable early learning workforce and unsuccessful efforts to pass statewide legislation to address the issue. First 5 California, also known as the California Children and Families Commission, is charged with building a comprehensive statewide early learning system for children, prenatal to age 5, that addresses their broad spectrum of developmental and health needs. Revenues from a state cigarette tax (established by a ballot initiative, Proposition 10) are split between the State Commission-First 5 California (20 percent) and the 58 county commissions (80 percent). Funding to the counties is based on area birth rates.

In 2000, First 5 California launched the CARES program as a five-year (July 2000-June 2005) matching fund pilot project. Forty-seven counties participated and were allocated funding based on how much local First 5 funding they had already received. Large counties that received greater shares of local First 5 funds were granted a state-county matching fund of 1:4 while small counties were expected to meet a 1:2 match. Over the five-year pilot, First 5 California distributed $31 million in total to support local CARES programs; counties contributed $109 million from their own First 5 funding; local fundraising contributed $4.8 million. In 2005, CARES went through major revision based on a three-year evaluation and emerging promising practices and trends at the national and local level. First 5 California then refunded CARES through December 2009 with a focus on desired outcomes for all children 0 to 5 regardless of their care setting. See below at the August 2010 update for details on the program\'s current status.

Applying for CARES Funds

In order to acquire CARES funds, county commissions submitted an application in response to First 5 California\'s Request for Funding (RFF) that outlines how they plan to meet the program\'s requirements. The program\'s requirements include:

  • Priority Zones: Counties must illustrate how they would use funds to target areas that have low supplies of licensed child care or qualify as a School Readiness community, which are areas that have low-performing schools based on the Academic Performance Index (API). In these zones, counties are expected to improve outreach to family child care providers, including those from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, that provide high-need care, such as to infant/toddlers.
  • Program Tracks and Participation Incentives: The CARES program is comprised of a total of five levels of professional development called tracks. All CARES programs are required at minimum to offer the first three tracks with each track providing incentives, stipends, and/or benefits unique to that level.
  • Program Support Services:All CARES programs are required to offer a wide range of supports, services, and professional development opportunities to participants, including:
    • Technical assistance and application assistance.
    • Services and supports for English Language Learners (ELL), including multilingual resources (ESL classes, curriculum and/or texts in languages other than English, courses with a translator, etc).
    • Supports and courses to help participants build study skills critical to earning a Child Development (CD) Permit or Degree.
    • Career supports and educational assistance, such as counseling, tutoring, and mentoring.
    • Financial aid, scholarships, and book lending library.
    • CARES Advisors to assist participants in creating a Professional Educational Development Plan to be reviewed annually.
  • Collaborative Partners: To maximize resources and prevent duplication of services, counties are expected to collaborate with their Local Child Care and Development Planning Council (LPC).

Coordination at the county level between CARES and the Child Development Staff Retention Program, which provides funds to counties to use to help retain qualified staff in state-subsidized child development programs overseen by the Child Development Division (CDD) in the California Department of Education (CDE), is required.  


Meeting Program Eligibility and Participation Requirements

The CARES program is designed to serve all levels of the early learning workforce, from entry level staff and license-exempt caregivers to early childhood educators with advanced education and experience. With the exception of family, friend, and neighbor caregivers, eligible participants generally must:

  • Serve children, birth to age 5, at a licensed or legally-exempt facility. With a few exceptions, participants that are not licensed are expected to work towards licensure.
  • Prior to applying, have worked a minimum of nine months for at least 15 hours per week.
  • Provide care in a priority zone.
  • Earn a salary of less than $60,000 a year.
  • Work in only one county and not apply for or receive AB 212 stipend funds.

Counties have the option to include additional eligibility conditions. Once in the program, participants must meet certain requirements in order to advance through the program\'s learning tracks. These requirements vary for each track.


Providing Training, Education, and Professional Development

The CARES program consists of five levels of training, education, and professional development called tracks. The tracks provide progressively advanced levels of skills and knowledge in child development and care. The five tracks are:

  • Track I: Family, Friend, and Neighbor (FFN) Support - Participants receive short-term health and safety education, home visits, and training in basic child development. Introductory information on how to become licensed is also provided. Many infants and toddlers are in FFN care.
  • Track II: Entry Level -Participants are providers, such as center-based teacher assistants and family child care providers, who work in licensed early childhood settings and have completed less than six college-level units.
  • Track III: Child Development Permit: Participants must have completed at least six college units and are working towards earning one of six available levels of Child Development (CD) Permits. This track in the CARES Program has the most participants.
  • Track IV: Degree -Participants have at least an associate\'s degree or a Teacher Permit and are working towards earning a B.A. degree in early childhood.
  • Track V: Professional -Participants must have a Master Teacher Permit or a bachelor\'s degree and meet certain other requirements based on county. Participants receive advanced levels of training and education.

Counties have flexibility in the kinds of incentives and stipends/benefits that are given at each Track. In general, participants in Track I receive materials, equipment, certificates/gift cards, or monetary incentives under $150. For Tracks II-V, participants receive a stipends or benefits package based on permit level or degree. In 2007-2008, the average amount of stipends ranged from $3,700 in Track II to $5,000 in Track V. Some counties have also in the past offered bonuses for those who worked in infant/toddler care and completed infant and toddler coursework. For instance, participants in Track V of the CARES program in Glenn County received a $100 bonus for meeting any two of three conditions: having bilingual skills, working in infant/toddler care with at least three units of infant/toddler training, and serving a child who has an Individual Education Plan.


Evaluating the CARES Pilot Project

To assess the program\'s effectiveness in improving education and retention, First 5 California commissioned a three-year (2000-2003) evaluation of the pilot project. The evaluation produced positive findings, such as:

  • The majority (96 percent) of participants continued to work in the early childhood field one year after participating in CARES, and just slightly less (93 percent) remained one and a half years later.
  • CARES participants were over twice as likely as non-participants to stay at the same center during a two-year period.
  • CARES participants were twice as likely as non-participants to advance to a higher level on the CD permit matrix.
  • Participants reported feeling motivated to pursue further education and update their knowledge and skills in child development.


Extending the CARES Program (2005-2009)

Given the pilot\'s promising results, First 5 California approved an extension of the program for an additional four years (July 2005 - December 2009) with a new investment of up to $40 million. In this round, 44 counties participated in the program. Several program changes were made following the extension, one of which was an increased focus on professional development and education:

  • Professional Educational Development Plan: Participants in Tracks II - V are required to meet with a CARES Advisor to create a Professional Educational Development plan and review the plan on an annual basis. This change was implemented to provide better guidance to students on moving forward through the program and prevent repeated enrollments in the same courses.
  • Self-Assessment: Participants in Tracks III-V that have completed two years in the program are required to learn how to use a program evaluation tool and perform a self evaluation. Using the evaluation, participants have to create an improvement plan.
  • Higher Education Access Plan: At the administrative level, programs are required to develop and implement an annual Higher Education Access Plan that illustrates how programs are partnering with higher education institutions and addressing the diverse needs of participants.


Assessing the Current and Future State of the CARES Program

First 5 California conducts an annual assessment of the CARES program. Overall, a total of nearly 87,000 stipends have been distributed since 2000. In the commission\'s 2007-2008 progress report, Promising Practices for Supporting the Early Learning Workforce - June 2008, general findings on program participation included:

  • Over 9,300 stipends were distributed.
  • Over 1,500 participants obtained a CD Permit, and about 840 moved up on the Permit matrix.
  • Over 400 participants earned a higher education degree (AA, BA, and MA).

Furthermore, the CARES Program had a significant impact on supporting infant/toddler care in the state. Key results from FY 2007-2008 include:

  • About 43 percent of participants in the CARES Program served infants and toddlers. Out of more than 9,000 total CARES participants, nearly 4,000 (3,927 participants) cared for children, birth through age two.
  • Over 28,000 infants and toddlers were reached through the CARES Program. CARES participants served 10,729 children from birth to 23 months, and 17,630 toddlers from 24 to 35 months.

August 2010 Update

At the end of December 2009, the four-year extension of the CARES Program expired. After considering how best to build on the CARES program given the latest promising practices, developments, and reorganization of the early learning system in California, the State Commission approved in April 2010 up to $36 million in funding for an enhanced program, CARES Plus, for three years (2010-2013).The enhanced CARES Plus adds various improvements to the original program, such as an expansion of the Higher Education Plans to Higher Education Quality Partnerships. To obtain more information on current developments of CARES Plus, please visit the First 5 California website


State Contacts:

First 5 California

Sarah Neville-Morgan

Deputy Director, Program Management



Cynthia Hearden

Child Development Consultant




See all Charting Progress for Babies in Child Care State Examples.

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