Washington State Extends Child Care Subsidy Eligibility to 12 Months

Apr 08, 2010

By Elizabeth Hoffmann

In response to a need to limit disruptions in care for children and families, Washington Governor Christine Gregoire signed a bill on April 1 that increases the eligibility period for some families receiving child care subsidies to 12 months. The change will only apply to families with children also enrolled in Head Start, Early Head Start, or Washington's ECEAP program, although the bill calls for state recommendations on extending eligibility to more children. The law is a positive step for families and for the state. It supports working families by helping them maintain their child care subsidies and support their families, and it reduces administrative paperwork for the state. Further, it promotes children's healthy development. Research shows that frequent changes in caregivers can be harmful to children's development. Especially for infants and toddlers, experiences and learning occur in the context of the relationships that children have with adults who care for them.

In guidance issued more than a decade ago, the federal Child Care Bureau made clear that states have flexibility in setting their own eligibility periods for child care assistance, and it promoted different eligibility periods for children in collaboratively funded programs. Aligning and coordinating child care with that of other school readiness programs is in line with federal priorities to create more coordinated early childhood systems in states.

Extending subsidy eligibility to 12 months is one important policy change that states can make to promote continuity of care. At the point of redetermination, families may lose their subsidy, even when they remain eligible for assistance. The reasons families lose their subsidies vary, though research suggests it is often related to the complexities and frequency of the redetermination process rather than changes in family income, hours, or employment structure. Working parents may be unable to leave work to make in-person visits to subsidy agencies to file necessary paperwork or may be unclear about the steps required to recertify their eligibility. Requiring an abundance of documentation makes the process overly difficult for parents, as well as for agency staff.

States have many policy options in their child care subsidy system that can promote stable, quality care for children, such as increasing the number of slots in contracted care, improving communication with parents during redetermination periods, allowing for absent days, and working with families with frequent changes to increase stability. CLASP's technical assistance tool on child care subsidy policies, with a focus on infants and toddlers, can help states identify their current state policies and strategize what policy changes could be made.

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