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New Report Finds Inequities in Early Child Care and Education Access Among Black Children and Families

Resource June 18, 2024

Quality child care and early education enhances children’s growth, learning, and development while simultaneously supporting working families. However, the rising cost of child care forces many families to depend on unstable or lower-quality care arrangements, while others are pushed to leave the workforce to care for their children. Publicly funded programs like Head Start, the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), and state pre-K are designed to make high-quality care and early learning more accessible. However, research finds that Black families from low-income households have limited access to these benefits. 

Earlier this year, the Children’s Equity Project at Arizona State University and the Equity Research Action Coalition at the UNC Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute released Review of Policy Effects on Black Families and Children: Advancing the Black Child National Agenda. This paper delves into the priorities presented in the Black Child National Agenda, which was released in 2021. One of the agenda’s identified policy goals is to expand universal access to early care and education. This new report examines access, experiences, and outcomes of major policies and programs that impact Black children and families. 

Quality child care and early education has long-term benefits for children and can narrow disparities between Black children and their non-Black peers, yet Black families face inequities regarding access to quality programs. Head Start provides comprehensive services to children in poverty. Research indicates that Black children were disproportionately enrolled in Head Start programs compared to other eligible children. Only 54% of the Black preschoolers eligible for Head Start were served in 2019. Additionally, Black families are the least likely of Head Start-eligible families to have a Head Start center in their immediate neighborhood. Research shows Head Start attendance can have long-term benefits for children in families across the domains of education, health, housing, and economic well-being. 

In 2019, CCDBG served 1.4 million children through child care subsidies, totalling $10.3 billion. Black children accounted for 40% of children served. Despite having the highest rates of access to subsidies in 2019, nearly 80% of Black children eligible for federal child care subsidies under the CCDBG did not receive assistance because of limited funding. 

Pre-K develops school readiness skills and promotes academic achievement, but enrollment varies substantially from state to state and is often based on income. The report indicates that Black children are underrepresented in state-funded pre-K programs. And of the Black children enrolled in state pre-K, only 4% were attending programs that met 9 or 10 of the quality standards developed by the National Institute of Early Education Research (NIEER).

The report examines additional components of early care and education that disproportionately impact black children, including access to early intervention and special education services through IDEA Part C and Part B Section 619. It also assesses the role of early childhood education on children experiencing homelessness, and disparities in exclusionary discipline practices. Black children and families’ access to, experiences in, and outcomes in programs related to health; housing; and wealth generation, economic security, and economic mobility are also analyzed in the report.

To maximize the success of early childhood education and care programs like Head Start, CCDBG, and public pre-K, an element of equity must be incorporated, as all populations should be adequately served and represented. Increased federal funding is needed to ensure public programs reach all eligible children. Read the full report here

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