In Focus: State Developments
Apr 03, 2013 | Permalink »
States Strengthen Work Support Strategies in First Year of Initiative
In the midst of tighter budgets and cuts in benefits spending, some states are focusing on more effective administration of public benefits that support working families. They're doing so because they know that these benefits, which include programs focused on nutrition, health care and child care, help families become and stay employed and promote children's success in school and life. By streamlining eligibility processes and cutting red tape for these programs, states can reduce administrative costs and make it less daunting for working families to get the help they need.
For example, states involved in the Work Support Strategies (WSS) project are making administrative and programmatic decisions that help families more easily acquire benefits for which they're eligible. Reports on the initial planning year of the project (2010-2011), released by the Urban Institute today, indicate that participating states have made progress in simplifying application processes, streamlining eligibility policies, and coordinating the administration of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP - formerly Food Stamps), Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and child care assistance.
As a partner in the WSS project, CLASP provides technical assistance to states to strengthen the administration of their child care assistance programs in the context of the broader WSS focus on coordinating across multiple programs. In the first year of the project, WSS states took steps to reduce barriers to families' enrollment in child care assistance programs and to improve continuity of care for children. Read More >>
Mar 21, 2013 | Permalink »
Providence’s Early Childhood Initiative Wins Big for Its Focus on Early Language Development
Young children learn language through their environment. During infancy, babies are intensely listening to the sounds and words of the world around them. As toddlers, children begin to form simple sentences and questions and express ideas and opinions. During preschool years, children build a larger vocabulary, using more complex language and complete sentences. It is during these stages of language development that caregivers' support and understanding is essential.
Providence, Rhode Island is working to ensure caregivers understand just how important a young child's early language development is, and how they can best support it, through their new early childhood initiative, Providence Talks. The initiative seeks to increase and improve upon young children's exposure to language and vocabulary, and is based on research that shows that by age 3, children in low-income families hear on average 30 million fewer words than children in middle and upper-income families. This word gap can severely impact school readiness and future language skills.
Providence Talks will provide children under age 5 with small electronic devices that record every conversation and word spoken to them throughout the day. Parents will then receive monthly coaching sessions with social workers on how to boost their child's vocabulary. The devices are able to filter out television and radio, and will also work for English, Spanish, and other languages. In order to prevent them from being damaged, the device will come with special clothing that holds it in place. The program is voluntary, and the city intends to offer it to all low-income families. By 2018, they hope to have 2,850 families participating.
Pitched as part of Bloomberg Philanthropies' Mayors Challenge contest, Provide Talks was recently awarded the contest's $5 million grand prize for its innovation, impact, and potential to be implemented in other cities.
While the program's long-term impact has yet to be seen, Providence Talks is a new and innovative approach to improving young children's language and vocabulary in both the short and long-term. It is one example of a growing recognition of how important adult-child interactions, like those found in high-quality child care and early education, are to improving children's language and literacy skills.
Jan 22, 2013 | Permalink »
Nontraditional Work Hours Influence Child Care Choices for Working Families
Virtually all working parents must rely on some form of child care so they can get and keep their jobs, and it's often a struggle for them to find quality care. Children in low-income households, in particular, stand to benefit from high quality child care and early education. But the realities of the low-income workforce - including non-traditional and varying work schedules - make it particularly challenging to find and afford traditional licensed child care programs.
To understand the needs of low-income working families and their child care providers, Illinois Action for Children recently examined the child care utilization of 50 single parents working nontraditional hours. The findings have been released in the report Choices in the Real World: the use of family, friend and neighbor child care by single Chicago mothers working nontraditional schedules. The study found that cost, flexibility, and availability during nontraditional hours frequently led low-income parents to use license-exempt family, friend and neighbor (FFN) child care providers. According to the agency, in October 2012, 42 percent of Chicago children receiving Illinois Child Care Assistance were served in FFN child care.
The need for flexible and affordable child care is not unique to Chicago. Consider this:
- According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, almost one third of individuals classified as "working poor" are employed in the service sector - with jobs that are more likely to require non-traditional hours and frequently changing schedules.
- One Urban Institute study of low-income workers in Rhode Island and Washington found that 60 percent of parents interviewed worked at least some nonstandard hours regularly, including evenings, nights, weekend and variable shifts. Parents also lacked flexibility to determine their schedules or time off.
- Across the country, the supply of licensed child care available during non-traditional hours is limited.
- Child care is expensive, with the lowest income families paying on average up to 40 percent of their income on child care.
- Location, transportation, and the availability of linguistically and culturally appropriate care may also lead families to seek alternatives to licensed care.
- Only 3 percent of the lowest-wage workers have paid family leave through their employers. These workers have a heightened need for affordable child care for their infants.
Nationally, 19 percent of children receiving Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG)-funded child care are cared for in license-exempt settings, but there is great variation among states. Hawaii, Michigan, Oregon, Illinois and New York have the highest proportion of children receiving subsidies in license-exempt care. As with licensed care, the quality of the providers varies. Given the importance of high quality child care for low-income children, state and federal policies that support meaningful licensing and quality improvement for child care are critical. In addition to increasing the capacity of licensed, high quality child care to meet the needs of low-income working families, it is also critical to ensure that children in license-exempt care today are receiving care that supports their healthy development. In its report, Illinois Action for Children recommends that policymakers increase parents' options for high quality care by:
- Increasing the availability of licensed care during nontraditional work hours, using policy strategies such as increasing subsidy rates for providers offering care during nontraditional hours;
- Pursuing policies that make licensed care more affordable to families with subsidies;
- Providing quality supports to FFN providers to increase the quality of care, including increased subsidy rates and "family support" type strategies to reach FFN providers, such as home visiting with FFN providers; and
- Using technology as a way to engage and support FFN providers in providing quality care, for example by establishing on-line social networks among providers.
By combining these strategies with increased investments in child care subsidies, monitoring, and quality improvements, state and federal policy makers can ensure that all children - including those whose parents are in the low-income workforce - are getting the quality child care and early education they need to put them on a path for success in life.