Early Childhood Education Update - February 2012

February 09, 2012 | Child Care and Early Education

In this issue:


CLASP recently released a data tool to help state advocates and policymakers developing comprehensive state early childhood agendas. The tool include a series of key questions to understand the context and conditions of young children in the state and links to state data on children birth to six to provide answers to:

  • Who are the children (and their families)?
  • Where are children in child care and early education?
  • How strong is the child care licensing/monitoring floor in your state?
  • How does your state help low-income families afford quality child care through subsidies and other mechanisms?
  • How is your state thinking about improving the quality of care for young children?

Data points include demographics and program participation (such as health and nutrition programs), as well as the details of child care and early education settings in the state. Where possible, data specific to infants and toddlers are included.

Once compiled, these data could be analyzed to identify any trends, areas of need for policy change, and opportunities to support the case for increased investment. Free assistance in using this tool, and additional supporting resources, are available from CLASP. Please contact Hannah Matthews, 202-906-8006 or hmatthews@clasp.org.

Explore the Data Tool >>


Based on data from Head Start Program Information Reports (PIR), CLASP has developed an analysis of Head Start children, families, programs and staff in 2010 and trends from 1997 to 2010. Highlights from the 2010 PIR include:

  • In 2010, Head Start served a diverse group of children and families from primarily working families with limited formal education. Head Start provides critical supports to poor infants, toddlers, pregnant women, and their families.
  • In 2010, young children, pregnant women, and their families continued to receive comprehensive early childhood services through Head Start. Nearly all children diagnosed with a disability received treatment.
  • The percent of Head Start teachers with degrees in 2010 decreased slightly from 2009, but a slightly higher percentage of teachers had bachelor's degrees in 2010, showing great progress on meeting the Head Start teacher qualification requirements, although salaries have not increased.
  • Head Start continued to provide services in a variety of settings. In 2010, most services were provided in centers while a small number of slots were home-based and an even smaller number were combination, family child care or locally-designed slots.

To read more about Head Start in 2010 and how the data has changed over time, you can access the entire brief online. Also available are factsheets highlighting program year 2010 data on Head Start and Early Head Start and state fact sheets with information on all Head Start programs in a state.

Read the full analysis of Head Start in 2010 >>


Evidence increasingly points to the critical role that early childhood plays in shaping and affecting a child's future. A recent technical report from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) looks at the impact early childhood exposure to toxic stress and adversity can have later on in adulthood. The report discusses the ecobiodevelopmental (EBD) framework, which takes into consideration the environmental and biological factors affecting development, and presents how early experiences and environmental influences can influence genetic predispositions and impact developing brain architecture and longer-term health. Early exposure to toxic stress and adversity can lead to impairments in learning, behavior, and physical and mental well-being.

Using the EBD framework the report examines how environmental factors impact the expression of certain genes, and in turn, how gene expression affects critical components of an individual's lifelong well-being. The AAP suggests that many adult diseases should be viewed as developmental disorders that begin in early life and the "persistent health disparities associated with poverty, discrimination, or maltreatment could be reduced by the alleviation of toxic stress in childhood."  In addition, the report looks at how the links between toxic stress, early life, and adult outcomes might shape the roles and actions of policymakers and pediatricians. The report comes away with eight overarching conclusions:

  • Advances in interdisciplinary fields from developmental neuroscience, genomics, molecular genetics, developmental psychology, epigentics, epidemiology, and economics are converging to influence the study and practice of pediatrics.
  • The deepening understanding of how brain architecture develops reveals the interactive effects of genetic predisposition and environmental influence, and how these interactions in the earliest years of life influence developing circuitry and affect lifetime learning, behavior, and health.
  • The study of early childhood biology and adversity shows how exposure to toxic stress can disrupt the development of brain architecture and adversely affect the simultaneous development of other organ systems and functions.
  • Exposure to toxic stress can result in potentially permanent changes in learning, behavior, and health that can lead to higher levels of stress and the development of stress-related chronic disease.
  • The costs of early childhood exposure to toxic stress are severe, and effective early childhood intervention provides a critical opportunity to prevent these negative outcomes.
  • Toxic stress can be reduced by developing innovative strategies through a coordinated system of polices and services that integrate the science of early childhood and early brain development.
  • The EBD framework offers a clear theory of change to help both policymakers and practitioners develop new solutions to societal disparities in health, learning, and behavior.
  • Pediatrics and pediatricians offer an enormously powerful platform for helping translate scientific developments into new early childhood policies by designing, testing, and implementing new models that promote healthy development in the earliest years of life.

Read the AAP's full technical report >>


The Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) provides child care assistance to low-income working families who are pursuing work, training, and education. Existing research indicates that some CCDF policies and practices create unintended barriers to providing families with access to, and retention of, CCDF benefits. A new research brief from Urban Institute and the Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation (OPRE) at ACF looks at research from other benefit programs on the effectiveness of policies designed to help clients access and retain benefits, and how these policies might be used by CCDF as well as in future research. The brief looks at Supplemental Nutrition (SNAP) and Medicaid/State Child Health Insurance Programs (SCHIP) policies to help inform how CCDF policies could be made more client-friendly.

The brief focuses on three main categories of policies and practices that could help improve the system. They include: 1) Programmatic access-the policies and practices that affect how a client is able to get in and receive benefits; 2) Programmatic retention-the policies and practices that affect the length of enrollment and eligibility for a client; 3) Administrative support-this includes staffing structures and service delivery that help support program access, and retention and eligibility. The brief looks at how SNAP and Medicaid/SCHIP have created more client-friendly programs with respect to these three categories.

Existing research on SNAP and Medicaid/SCHIP looks at promoting access by simplifying applications, eliminating face-to-face interviews, and allowing applicants to submit applications online, by phone or by mail. Research also finds that simplifying what clients need to renew benefits and how often they need to renew can increase retention, and improving administrative culture, offering greater access to technology and changing how caseloads are distributed can improve administrative practices.

Current research suggests that CCDF is exploring policies that can help make subsidy practices more client-friendly. From the review of SNAP and Medicaid/SCHIP research, the authors draw three main conclusions for how CCDF policy can benefit. 

  • Retention rates can be improved by lengthening redetermination periods and administrative renewal.
  • Simplifying the application process can help increase access and enrollment.
  • Policies and practices can influence different subgroups differently, and this must be taken into account when implementing new policies. For example, a practice or policy may appear client-friendly, such as switching to online applications, but there can be negative effects for subgroups that are not computer literate and may need additional help.

Each of these conclusions comes with a caveat about the need to continue studying what client-friendly practices and policies are and how best to implement them. There is also the need to continually be aware of how policies will affect different subgroups of clients, and how best to make sure that all clients are supported.

Read the full research brief on making CCDF more client-friendly >>


The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) released their analysis of state early care and education public policy developments for Fiscal Year 2012. An analysis of state budgets reveals that across the board states continue to spend down funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) while also facing significant budget shortfalls. A result of this is the reductions in state investments in early childhood education and in other areas of education.

The report shows that the changes to family eligibility income requirements and co-payments are continuing the trend of changes negatively impacting low-income families' access to child care assistance. In addition, NAEYC highlights reductions in state funds for pre-kindergarten programs. Some states reported maintaining pre-kindergarten funding levels through ARRA money, but 19 out of 40 states with pre-kindergarten programs reduced their per-child spending.

While state budgets included reduced funding for education programs, there are also states that have put effort into building their early childhood systems both through their Early Childhood Advisory councils and through enhancing and implementing quality rating and improvement systems (QRIS), and professional development systems. Another positive development for several states is the new Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program, which was enacted in March 2010 as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Over the course of five years the federal government will award states $1.5 billion to expand their evidence-based, voluntary home-visiting programs for at-risk pregnant women and caregivers of young children. The report summarizes the major developments across the states with respect to early care and education, and categorizes the issues by 26 different issues areas, including data systems, QRIS, child care subsidies, health care, early intervention, and child immunizations.

Read the full report on state ECE developments in FY2012 >>


The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a new clinical report affirming the importance of play in promoting healthy child development and maintaining a strong parent-child bond for all children. According to the AAP play is essential to child development because it contributes to children's cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being. However, changes in lifestyle and family structure, as well as increased attention to academics and enrichment activities have contributed to a reduction in free child-centered play. This report provides pediatricians with information on how they can advocate for play as an integral part of a child's life at home, school, and in their community.

Play's benefits come from allowing children to use their creativity, develop imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive, and emotional strength. When children drive their play activities it allows them to practice decision-making skills, move at their own pace, discover their own interests, and engage fully in what they wish to pursue. Play also builds healthy, active bodies. Over the years, child-centered free play has waned due to increased emphasis on academics, hurried lifestyles, and increasing focus on organized activities. In addition, changes in family structure have also impacted children's free play. An increasing number of families have a single head of household or two working parents, and there are fewer multigenerational households with grandparents and extended family members. This means that fewer households have an adult who is home during the workday or after school to supervise children. Out of home time has increasingly become more about organized, enrichment activities that develop academic skills and promote school readiness. Playtime can also be impacted by lack of facilities or unsafe conditions, particularly affecting children who live in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods. Reduced playtime and busier schedules can cause increased stress, anxiety, and even depression in children and youth.

In order to raise awareness about play's importance, it is important to advocate for strategies that look at communities, schools, and family. It is important to encourage that recess be a component of the school day, and promote a healthy balance of both academic and enrichment activities with play and free time. Because pediatricians play a central role in promoting the physical, emotional, and social well-being of children and adolescents, the report suggests that pediatricians take an advocacy position in promoting play. Pediatricians can promote the physical and mental health benefits that come from play. They can also reinforce that parents who share unscheduled spontaneous time with their children and who play with their children are being supporting, nurturing, and productive.  By discussing with parents the need for stress free activities, unscheduled time, and opportunities for children to explore different interests, pediatricians can help advocate for playtime in children's and adolescents' lives.

Read AAP's entire report on playtime and child development >>


Approximately one in five children between the ages of 2 and 5 is overweight or obese. This is especially worrisome given that nutrition and physical activity patterns are often formed in a child's early years, making a young child who is overweight much more likely to be overweight or obese as an adolescent and adult. Child care facilities offer a critically important arena for implementing strategies that promote healthy growth and obesity prevention. State Efforts to Address Obesity Prevention in Child Care Quality Rating and Improvement Systems, a recent report from Altarum Institute, looks at how some states are incorporating nutrition, physical activity, and screen time standards into child care QRIS.

Altarum Institute implemented a QRIS and Obesity Prevention project with the goal of developing models for state-level QRIS that effectively promote obesity prevention standards and support providers in implementing these standards. The project began with an advisory committee of leaders from federal agencies, national organizations, and states to discuss emerging models that incorporate obesity prevention into QRIS. A series of interviews were then conducted with state officials from health, education, and human service agencies. These officials were all from states that had incorporated or were beginning to incorporate nutrition, physical activity, and/or screen time standards into their QRIS. Finally, Altarum convened a State Teams QRIS and Obesity Prevention Meeting with select states to share experiences, make connections between states working on obesity prevention and QRIS, and identify areas where further technical assistance and support was needed.

After completing these three phases, Altarum compiled a set of findings to help states with their future efforts to utilize QRIS in obesity prevention. Altarum makes the following conclusions:

  • The coordination of health, education, and early learning and care programs in state governments is important in reducing barriers to change in the QRIS.
  • Collaboration and success increased when health and education officials used similar terminology and "spoke the same language" concerning the health, educational, and technical components.
  • Piloting standards was also an effective way to determine whether or not they were feasible; most states found it helpful to complete one or more small pilot studies of new standards before implementing them statewide. This helped determine if further clarification was needed, if technical assistance was sufficient, and if the tools required any additional refinement.

This study is an initial look at QRIS and obesity prevention. Altarum recommends ongoing evaluation of state efforts in order to determine the effect obesity prevention standards in QRIS have on child care facilities and on the children they serve.

Read more about using QRIS for obesity prevention >>


Research and data have long shown that investing in programs that help families leads to improved outcomes for children in school and life. If states raise sufficient revenues and invest in health, nutrition, income support and education programs, children do better. New state child and youth well-being data also demonstrate this. The Child Well-Being Index (CWI), released by the Foundation for Child Development, shows differences in the status of children and families across states, reflecting their policies and investments in children. This year's report focuses on how public investments at the federal, state, and local government matter when determining the well-being of children.

FCD's State CWI collects information from a comprehensive set of data to form the state level CWI. With this data, children's well-being is then ranked in accordance with seven different domains, including family economic well-being, health, safe/risky behavior, educational attainment, community engagement, social relationships, and emotional/spiritual well-being.

The states that ranked in the top 10 in terms of child well-being have state and local tax rates that average above 10 percent; states that ranked in the middle 10 have state and local tax rates that average between 9 and 9.5 percent; and, states that ranked in the bottom 10 have state and local tax rates that average just above 8.5 percent. These statistics emphasize the report's main findings, which show that higher state taxes are better for children, public investments in children are important, and a child's well-being is strongly related to the state where they live.

Read FCD's full state CWI report >>


Beginning in 2010 the Office of Head Start and the Office of Child Care worked with Zero to Three (ZTT) and Mathematica Policy Research to implement and evaluate the Early Head Start for Family Child Care project. The project focuses on promoting seamless service delivery for families served by Early Head Start and in need of child care assistance. The four central goals of the project were: 1) Provide higher-quality care for low-income children in family child care homes; 2) Provide coordinated and comprehensive services for families; 3) Offer support to increase the capacity of family child care providers; and 4) Build strong partnerships that support coordinated service delivery in communities. After developing a framework with these goals in mind, 22 partnerships composed of an Early Head Start grantee and a child care partner were selected to participate in a 10-month long project. The partnerships spanned 22 different communities across 17 states.

The evaluation phase of the project revealed that the Early Head Start and child care partnerships built stronger, more understanding relationships. Staff at each organization better understood the programs and services offered by the other, the organizational leaders better understood how the programs fit together, and an infrastructure was put in place to share information about providers and families, offering one another administrative support and training. There was also increased state-level engagement with partnerships reaching out to state-level officials and policymakers, discussing issues of ratios and group size, eligibility criteria that made it difficult for families to receive child care assistance, child care licensing regulations, and provider education to help meet the Head Start Program Performance Standards (HSPPS).

The experiences of the 22 partnerships' implementation of the Early Head Start for Family Child Care project provides useful information for states and communities looking to offer Early Head Start in family child care as well as information on how to support more seamless service delivery for low-income families. Important future lessons that could be used by other communities and states fall into four main categories. They include:

  • Planning a Complex Systems-Based Initiative: When conducting this type of planning, planners must make decisions about how the planning process is structured, who will be involved, and how to support the work.
  • Building and Sustaining Partnerships: Many of the partnerships moved from communications to information exchange to shared resources, moving further along in their collaboration efforts towards joint accountability for outcomes. Such collaboration requires sustained investment and commitment.
  • Engaging Family Child Care Providers: While planning and implementing any initiative that involves the family child care providers, organizers of the initiative should be aware of the child care providers' expertise, constraints, and experiences in order to effectively engage them.
  • Addressing Policy Considerations: When implementing or strengthening existing Early Head Start services in family child care homes, organizers must be aware of local, state, and federal policy issues. Careful attention must be paid to differences and similarities in standards, benchmarks, and policies that involve the providers, as well as how professional development (PD) opportunities can be linked to existing PD opportunities.

Read the full report on the Early Head Start for Family Child Care project >>


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