Panel Paper: How Early Head Start Programs Help Meet the Child Care Needs of Low-Income Families

Saturday, November 9, 2013 : 8:20 AM
Mayfair Court (Westin Georgetown)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Cheri A. Vogel, Kimberly Boller, Yange Xue and Lauren Bernstein, Mathematica Policy Research
Early Head Start (EHS) is a two-generation program that serves low-income pregnant women and families with children to age 3. Aimed at promoting child development and family well-being, EHS offers high-quality, comprehensive educational, nutritional, health, social and other services through three primary service options: center-based child care, a home visiting option, and family child care, with many different possible combinations of these options. Additionally, EHS programs establish partnerships with various community agencies. Through these partnerships, EHS programs aim to meet diverse family needs families by connecting them to health and mental health providers, social and economic support services, and child care providers offering wraparound care.

The EHS Family and Child Experiences Study (Baby FACES) is the first descriptive study of a nationally representative sample of 89 programs. It includes two cohorts of children (newborns and 1 year olds) who were followed throughout their experience in EHS. Slightly less than 1,000 children and families were enrolled in the study. Extensive data were collected annually on families, children, EHS staff, and programs including data on families’ needs for and participation in EHS and other child care services.

In this paper, we provide an overarching picture of the landscape of child care needs and use in a sample of EHS families, and the ways that EHS programs provide supports for these needs. We first describe the characteristics and work support needs of families in EHS including reported employment or schooling activities.[1] We then describe how programs have responded to those needs in terms of how they provide child care services, such as the number of child care centers operated by programs, the number of child care partnerships established, and hours of center operation. Because the study began the year before an historic expansion of the EHS program under the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA), we also describe how programs who received these funds used them to expand child care services, and identify possible gaps in services due to changes in services offered at different times of the year. 

Next we describe EHS families’ participation in child care services. We look at families’ use of child care within the EHS program options, as well as through partnerships or other arrangements for supplemental or wraparound care at study entry (when children were 1 year old). We then examine how EHS and child care participation varies among families with different work support needs and how child care use changes over time.  Finally, we describe families’ use of formal and informal child care arrangements upon exiting the EHS program when children were 3 years old. Findings are discussed in terms of the work support needs of families enrolled in EHS and the extent to which EHS programs are meeting those needs.

[1]  We define an “employment” based on activities of each parent living in the home. Employment is considered to be working part time or more or attending school or training.