In Focus: Infants and Toddlers

Oct 6, 2015  |  PERMALINK »

Making a Difference for Poor Babies Using TANF: A Framework for States

By Elizabeth Lower-Basch and Stephanie Schmit

Americans overwhelmingly agree that children’s fate in life should not be determined by the circumstances in which they are bornBut children born into poor families are at great risk of persistent poverty during their childhood. A growing body of evidence shows that poverty in early childhood is a grave threat to children’s long-term health, well-being, and educational success, with persistent and deep poverty causing the most damage. A new CLASP report, TANF and the First Year of Life: Making a Difference at a Pivotal Moment, suggests an innovative framework for thinking about Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) in the context of the first year of life, a vision for what a reformed TANF might look like, and concrete steps that states can begin taking right now to move their programs in this direction.

TANF offers an important, large-scale, high-impact opportunity to achieve two-generational goals for poor families with infants because:

  • TANF already reaches about a quarter million of the poorest families with babies or pregnant women, which is about half of deeply poor families with infants.
  • By its design, TANF is inherently a two-generational program, in that it is explicitly aimed at serving low-income families with children.
  • TANF is a block grant that gives states a great deal of flexibility in deciding which needy families to serve, what services to provide, and what to expect of recipients.

Today’s state TANF programs too often fall far short of their potential. Barriers to access, underfunded services, and work requirements that do not take the needs of infants into account hold parents back and make it harder for them to lift themselves and their babies out of poverty. For example, in 11 states, parents of infants under the age of one are subject to work requirements and could lose their entire family’s cash assistance benefit the first time they fail to meet work requirements.

But the growing evidence about the importance of the first year of life for children’s long-term success offers the opportunity to build a much stronger case than even just a few years ago for redesigning TANF programs to meet the developmental needs of infants in TANF families.

For the first time, the paper provides a framework grounded in the research about infant development and detailed data about TANF families and state policy options, to provide a wealth of practical ideas for state leaders. These ideas, organized into a package of foundational options for all states to consider, along with a set of more innovative options for states that have made strong progress on the foundations, include:

  • removing barriers that prevent pregnant women and parents of babies from accessing cash assistance;
  • redesigning work requirements to reflect the needs of infants and the realities of today’s low-wage labor market;
  • ensuring access to quality child care; and
  • building linkages to other programs and services, such as early childhood home visiting, health care, and nutritional supports.

Some states have already started to adopt more evidence-based and positive policies for TANF families. Minnesota repealed its family cap in 2013. Last year, Washington state set aside nearly $1 million from the TANF block grant to fund a pilot home visiting project targeting TANF recipients using evidence-based models already used in the state. The recent reauthorizations of the Child Care Development Block Grant (CCDBG) and the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) require states to make a number of changes to how they deliver the services funded by these programs, and how they relate to TANF. This makes it an opportune time for states to think holistically about how these multiple programs serve the same families, and to re-envision TANF as a true two-generational anti-poverty program. 

Jul 16, 2015  |  PERMALINK »

Strong Start for America’s Children Amendment Calls for an Investment in Early Learning

By Rhiannon Reeves and Christina Walker

The Every Child Achieves Act of 2015, which would reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) for the first time since No Child Left Behind was passed in 2001, is currently being debated on the Senate floor. Earlier today, the Senate voted against Senator Bob Casey’s (D-PA) Strong Start for America’s Children Amendment, which would have created a five-year innovative federal-state partnership to expand and improve early learning opportunities for children across the birth-to-age-five continuum. More specifically, the amendment provided for:

  • Access to high-quality preschool by providing more than $30 billion in paid-for mandatory formula and grant funding to states—with a required state match—for high-quality, full-day preschool for four-year-old children from families earning below 200% of the Federal Poverty Level.
  • Support for early learning quality partnerships that meet the high-quality performance standards of Early Head Start and blend federal funds to provide high-quality, full-day child care.
  • Promotion of increased funding to serve children with disabilities in early childhood settings by increasing the authorization level of programs for infants and toddlers with disabilities and of preschool grants for children with disabilities under the Individuals with Disabilities  Education Act (IDEA).
  • Maintained support for home visiting programs and called for their continuation through the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) Program.

High-quality early education experiences have been linked to school readiness and the lifetime employment and earning potential of low-income children. Despite these linkages, some of the most vulnerable low- and moderate-income families in this country still lack access to high-quality child care options for their youngest children. The Strong Start for America’s Children Amendment further proposed to advance high-quality, comprehensive early care and education systems across the country that ultimately support the goals of ESEA. 

Last week, the House passed its version of the ESEA reauthorization bill called the Student Success Act, which differs from the Senate bill under consideration. If the Senate passes the Every Child Achieves Act, Congress will need to reach a compromise between the House and Senate versions through a Conference Committee; therefore, the provisions of a final ESEA bill would remain to be negotiated.

Earlier this year, CLASP released recommendations for improving ESEA by increasing access to high-quality early learning opportunities for young children and promoting provisions that help youth succeed academically and ensure they are ready for college and career. We urge Congress, in working toward a final bill, to bolster support for vulnerable young children and disadvantaged youth because reauthorization of this important law must protect and enhance robust opportunities for all students, particularly those most at risk. The introduction of the Strong Start for America’s Children Amendment was a good first step in that direction.

Apr 1, 2015  |  PERMALINK »

CLASP Publishes Guide for States on CCDBG Reauthorization

By Hannah Matthews

Today, CLASP and the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) released an implementation guide for the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) reauthorization.

In November 2014, with broad bipartisan support, Congress reauthorized CCDBG (the major federal child care program) for the first time since 1996. The new law strengthens CCDBG’s dual role as a major early childhood education program and a work support for low-income families.

Key provisions in the law support the following goals:

  • Protecting the health and safety of children in care through more consistent standards and monitoring of standards;
  • Improving the quality of care, including through increased supports for child care providers; and
  • Enabling families to more easily access child care assistance that supports stable and continuous care and that can be coordinated with other programs.

This implementation guide is designed to help policymak­ers and advocates gain a better understanding of what is entailed in fully implementing the law. It summarizes and analyzes key sections of the reauthorization, offering recommendations and areas of caution for states. It also includes a detailed chart compar­ing specific provisions of the new law with those of the previous law, an implementation timeline, a checklist indicating state compliance with select provisions of the law, a summary of the law, and state-by-state information on CCDBG funding and children served.

To fulfill the goals of the legislation, states will need to be strategic and thoughtful about implementation, including paying careful attention to the funding necessary to carry out the provisions. Unlike previous reautho­rizations, this law was not accompanied with a guarantee of new federal funds—and in many states, the new law will have substantial costs. Additional federal and state resources will be essential to ensure that states do not make tradeoffs that would undermine the reauthorization's goals and further reduce the number of children served, which is already at historic lows.

To achieve the full vision of the CCDBG reauthorization and avoid tradeoffs that harm children and families—and the child care providers who serve them—thoughtful implementation and new resources will be essential. CLASP and NWLC will continue to work closely with those involved in implementing the law in states and at the federal level to realize the potential benefits of the reauthorization.

Read Implementing the Child Care and Development Block Grant Reauthorization>>

Register for the CLASP/NWLC CCDBG Implementation webinar on April 15, from 2-3pm EDT >>

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