Children are born learning, and at this early stage of development, the brain grows through touch, talk, sight and sound. This makes the baby’s interactions with its environment and caregivers critical to building a foundation upon which subsequent development milestones are shaped.  Providing enriching experiences that promote growth across the domains of development at this critical time requires a substantial financial investment on the part of the family. Access to high quality child care can cost more than attending college and can be a greater expense than a family’s rent. These financial challenges significantly limit access to high-quality early learning programs for low-income families across the country. Voters nearly unanimously believe in high quality, low cost, early care and education; 89% of voters say it is important to make child care more affordable for working families so children have a strong start.

Programs such as Early Head Start (EHS) and subsidies through the Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) work to provide access to early learning programs for children from low-income families. Unfortunately the number of families who need access to high quality programs significantly outweigh the supply. In an effort to optimize coordination and collaboration within the existing mixed delivery system for early learning programs in states, the Administration for Children and Families carved out $500 million for Early Head Start-Child Care Partnership (EHS-CCP) grants as part of President Obama’s Early Learning Initiative. In FY16, Congress has invested nearly $1 billion in new money to be dispersed across major federal early care and education programs, including a $135 million to expand EHS, which includes EHS-CCP grants. Making high quality early learning programs available to infants and toddlers from low-income families is a major step toward closing the opportunity gap, and EHS-CCPs are one way to do so.

EHS-CCP is a competitive grant opportunity to support collaboration between EHS grantees and child care programs. Federal support for child care comes in the form of block grants to states administered by the Office of Child Care through the Child Care Development Fund (CCDF).  EHS is a federal program that provides comprehensive development and family support  services  to pregnant women and young children up to age 3. The program provides early, continuous, intensive, and comprehensive child development and family support services that enhance the physical, social, emotional, and intellectual development of participating children. In addition, Early Head Start provides young children with an array of comprehensive services, including health, nutritional, behavioral, and family services. As of 2015, there are 275 EHS-CCP and expansion grants, which includes 600 family child care homes, 1100 child care centers, and 2900 EHS-CC classes.

Ultimately 32,000 infants and toddlers are expected to enroll in EHS-CCP programs. Current enrollment exceeds 50% of this total and does not account for over 5,300 children who benefit from increased classroom quality as a result of the partnerships. Though still in its beginning stages, EHS-CCP and expansion grants show early success as states and local providers are positioned to leverage federal support in expanding efforts toward making a significant difference in the lives of young children. States like Georgia and Ohio have taken the lead by demonstrating that partnerships increase the number of children and families who receive comprehensive EHS services; in Georgia, this number has increased by 41%.

Pairing EHS with the child care subsidy program leads to integrated, high quality, comprehensive programs, thus making better use of federal funding for underserved children and families. Additionally, since EHS-CCP grantees must adhere to the Head Start Performance Standards, they will meet the highest quality standards. The result of these partnerships increases parent choice when selecting high-quality early learning opportunities in their community.