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Arizona Is Improving Child Care for Babies Using American Rescue Plan Funds

In early 2023, ZERO TO THREE interviewed eight states to understand how they are leveraging American Rescue Plan Act funding to meet the needs of infants, toddlers and families.

This article describes Arizona’s efforts.

Understanding Needs and Identifying Priorities

When American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding became available, Arizona built upon existing information about needs and gaps in the child care system from a recent Bipartisan Policy Center gap analysis and a cost of quality study conducted by First Things First. To understand the emergent needs of families and providers in the context of the pandemic, the state engaged stakeholders via a series of outreach sessions, surveys and workgroups held with partners such as the Arizona Early Childhood Alliance.

These combined sources of information led to the identification of four priorities for ARPA child care resources:

  • Expand access to care.
  • Invest in quality.
  • Stabilize the child care network.
  • Accelerate educational support and early childhood literacy.

In addition to priority areas, the state identified four priority populations to ensure resources are targeted to the areas of highest need:

  • Providers serving infants and toddlers.
  • Dual language learners.
  • Rural and tribal communities.
  • Families involved in the child welfare system.

Targeting Resources to Infants and Toddlers

  • Providers serving infants and toddlers have been prioritized for access to a range of resources, including enrollment in Quality First — Arizona’s Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS) — which has had a wait list for the past decade. Participation in Quality First grants provides access to quality incentives, coaching, increased subsidy reimbursement rates for those rated 3 or above and the ability to access Quality First Scholarships.
  • Quality First Scholarships provide child care reimbursement for families making too much to qualify for child care subsidy but below 300% of the federal poverty line. ARPA funds are being used to both increase the reimbursement rate for the program and to expand the number of scholarships available.
  • Providers serving infants and toddlers have also been prioritized for infrastructure grants.
  • Infant-toddler educators will be prioritized for participation in a new apprenticeship program under development, with the professional development available through the program to include infant-toddler-specific content.
  • Child care stabilization funds were made available to family, friend and neighbor (FFN) caregivers, partly out of recognition that these providers disproportionately serve infants and toddlers.
  • Arizona is also leveraging ARPA to expand access to infant and early childhood mental health (IECMH) consultation for child care providers statewide, where previously it was only available in 13 communities across the state.

Navigating Challenges

As is the case across states, Arizona is navigating a variety of challenges related to implementation of ARPA-funded activities. Notably, the decimation of the early childhood workforce that took place during the pandemic has created challenges in terms of providers having the capacity to engage with available supports. Also of significant concern is the question of sustainability and the future stability of the child care system if new resources are not allocated when ARPA ends. At the same time, there is optimism that the strengthened partnerships between agencies and the increased focus on infants and toddlers that has emerged through this work will continue to benefit babies and families in the state going forward.

You can learn more about Arizona ARPA activities by visiting the Arizona Department of Economic Security website.

Additional ARPA Resources

Interested in learning more about how states are using ARPA to support babies? Visit our landing page to read the summary brief, “States Are Leveraging ARPA to Move the Needle for Infants and Toddlers,” and the full series of state articles (featuring Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Minnesota, Tennessee, Washington and Wisconsin).


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