Education and Care:

Early Childhood Programs and Services for Low-Income Families

HEHS-00-11: Published: Nov 15, 1999. Publicly Released: Nov 15, 1999.

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Cynthia Maher Fagnoni
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on federal child care funding, focusing on: (1) programs and services funded at the federal and state levels that directly provide early childhood care and education for the general population of low-income children up to age 5; (2) state and local assessments of the relative difficulty low-income parents face in obtaining care for their children; and (3) the collaborative efforts among child care officials and early childhood education officials to address these parents' difficulties.

GAO noted that: (1) the federal government invested about $11 billion in fiscal year 1999 on early childhood care and education programs for low-income children through a range of programs and the states invested almost $4 billion for such programs; (2) the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) provides most of the federal support for early childhood care and education, about $8 billion, through the Head Start program and the Child Care and Development Fund, which subsidizes the child care expenses of low-income working parents; (3) other HHS and Department of Education programs provide the remaining funding for early childhood care and education; (4) 32 states reported funding preschool programs, 15 states reported providing state money to supplement Head Start, and 19 states reported child care programs that provided funding to communities; (5) GAO's survey results showed that educationally oriented services were the most common services providers offered in centers and homes; (6) providers were less likely to include other services; (7) although a number of federal and state programs provided significant funds for early childhood care and education, some types of child care were still difficult for low-income families to obtain, including: (a) infant and toddler care; (b) care for children who have special needs; and (c) care for children during nonstandard hours; (8) in contrast, a majority of the survey respondents indicated that care for 3- and 4-year-olds was generally not difficult to obtain; (9) childcare administrators identified three major barriers to finding care for low-income children: (a) cost of care, especially for infants and toddlers; (b) availability; and (c) accessibility; (10) some states and localities are using collaborative initiatives to better bridge child care programs and early childhood education programs as well as the federal and state programs; (11) all the states GAO visited reported increased availability of full-time care for 3- to 5-year-olds as a result of collaborative efforts and more limited success in increasing the availability of infant and toddler care or care during nonstandard hours; (12) however, barriers to collaboration still remain, according to state officials and survey respondents; and (13) the types of care that have the greatest need for support are infant and toddler care, care during nonstandard hours, and care for children with special needs.

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