What are Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships?

By Stephanie Schmit

Last week, the President signed a 2014 spending bill, which included a substantial increase of $1.4 billion for child care and early education.  Over $1 billion of that increase was for Head Start, the nation’s early childhood program for poor children. Included within the Head Start appropriation was $500 million for Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships. Individually, Early Head Start (EHS) and child care programs are widely known and understood, but what does it mean to bring the two together?

The Administration for Children and Families explains that research shows that much of the child care available to infants and toddlers is not high quality. Given the major impact the earliest years have on child development and outcomes, ensuring that children have access to and can benefit from high-quality child care is crucial. EHS-child care partnerships are intended to leverage the quality standards of EHS so that more low-income children can benefit from high-quality services through child care centers and family child care homes. A national evaluation of the Early Head Start program found that participating 3-year-olds performed significantly better on a range of cognitive, language, and social-emotional development measures than a randomly assigned control group. Many other sources, including this study, find that EHS promotes learning and the parenting that supports it within the first three years of life.

Early Head Start partnership funding will be available to all 50 states based on their share of poor young children, and programs will compete for available dollars in each state. These federal grants will allow new or existing Early Head Start programs to partner with local child care centers and family child care providers serving low-income infants and toddlers. Funding will be available to help child care programs meet Early Head Start standards and for training and technical assistance.

Dedicated federal funding for partnerships is new, but the idea is not and some are even supported on the state level. In recent research CLASP conducted in conjunction with Zero to Three, we found states primarily using two strategies to improve infant/toddler child care quality through partnerships: establishing policies that lessen the burden of partnership; and providing funding to EHS programs that partner with child care providers, so that EHS services are delivered in child care settings. For example:

  • In Nebraska, five EHS programs have $30,000 sub-grants with the Nebraska Department of Health & Human Services to establish partnerships with center- or home-based child care providers. In addition to providing their child care partners with training and mentoring, the EHS programs have discretion to use part of their grant funds for child care provider incentives such as books, equipment, and hiring of substitutes so that full-time child care staff can attend trainings.
  • In Kansas, EHS programs receiving state funds are required to collaborate with child care centers and licensed family child care providers to provide EHS services, ensuring that enrolled pregnant women and children receive services meeting federal Head Start Performance Standards in both settings. Child care partners are offered supports such as technical assistance, grants, and comprehensive services for the families they serve in order to help the providers meet federal standards and raise the quality of care for participating children.

The $500 million appropriated in the 2014 budget agreement provides a tremendous opportunity for states and communities to make an impact and reach our youngest, most vulnerable children and families. Learning from what others have already done while developing partnerships that work for providers, children, and families will ensure that more children and families receive the child care and early education services they need to grow and thrive.