Policy Resource

Massachusetts' Review of Child Care System Leads to Recommendations for Improvement

Feb 9, 2016

In 2014, Massachusetts conducted a thorough study of the state’s subsidized child care system in order to more efficiently and effectively manage the provision of child care services.

In FY2014, the state legislature approved $500,000 to conduct an independent study of the Department of Early Education and Cares (EEC) child care access account. The Urban Institute, in partnership with Kone Consulting and Wellesley College, conducted the study. The goal was to identify inefficiencies and areas for improvement in the subsidy system, with a particular focus on subsidy eligibility processes. Information for the reports was gathered through qualitative interviews and focus groups, as well as quantitative analysis of survey, administrative, and fiscal data.

The four reports below describe findings from the study.

1. Review of Massachusetts Child Care Subsidy Eligibility Policies and Practices

by Gina Adams and Michael Katz, March 2015

While the subsidy system is ultimately administered by EEC, the complexity of the system includes three main funding streams, different sets of eligibility criteria, and inconsistency within and across units of government with oversight of the programs.

Several recommendations were offered, including:

  • Develop united and coherent subsidy policies across EEC units;
  • Support more consistent and accurate subsidy policy implementation;
  • Proactively seek more input from partner agencies and local subsidy entities;
  • Work with partner agencies and all local subsidy-administering entities to develop a shared vision;
  • Clarify eligibility oversight and cross-agency communication;
  • Clarify eligibility oversight authority and improve hand-off of families whose subsidy management spans different administering entities;
  • Continue to centralize and unify core infrastructure elements of the system;
  • Link and align with other work support systems;
  • Consider examining key elements of the enrollment process; and
  • Explore strategies to simplify and strengthen the reassessment process.

2. Review of Child Care Needs of Eligible Families in Massachusetts

by Julia B. Isaacs, Michael Katz, Sarah Minton and Molly Michie, March 2015

This study looked at the child care needs, supply, and gaps across geographic regions and age groups. Five cross-cutting themes emerged from the research:

  • Infants and toddlers have the largest gaps in subsidized care;
  • All six regions have unmet child care needs, but the gaps appear largest in the Central and Northeast regions;
  • The subsidized child care system does not adequately address the large need for nontraditional hours;
  • Matching needs and supply within geographic regions is challenging; and
  • The supply of subsidized child care is closely linked to the overall supply of, and market for, licensed child care.

3. Balancing Quality Early Education and Parents Workforce Success

by Gina Adams and Michael Katz, March 2015

This report examined how the subsidy system could best balance providing quality early childhood education and meeting the workforce needs of low-income parents. It acknowledged that the market does not effectively provide an adequate supply of affordable, high-quality care, and therefore does not meet the dual goal of supporting children’s development and parents need to work. This is especially challenging for lower-income families and those working non-traditional hours.

The report suggested there are four areas worth additional attention by the state:

  • Strengthen the overall EEC vision, and the EEC vision for the subsidy program, to more explicitly focus on both goals “ supporting child development and supporting workforce needs of parents and guardians.
  • Consider whether there are ways to strengthen core elements of the subsidy program to support child development goals while continuing to support access to care.
  • Consider ways the core subsidy program could better meet the needs of the significant portion of low-wage workers whose workforce patterns do not align with the services provided by the more formal child care market of centers and family child care homes.
  • Examine strategies to address gaps in the supply of child care available to families in the subsidy system.

4. Review of Budgetary Policies and Practices in the Massachusetts Subsidized Child Care System

by Julia B. Isaacs and Michael Katz, December 2014

This report focused on the three largest EEC caseload accounts and recommended how the forecasting models to project caseload and costs could be more accurate and thus result in more efficient use of annual appropriations that fund child care services. Recommendations included:

  • Keep the forecast models simple;
  • Redesign the forecast models to put reliance on the most recent month;
  • Put greater relative emphasis on estimating policy shifts;
  • Continue to improve the quality of data used for modeling;
  • Consider the benefit of viewing some forecasting issues from the broader perspective of caseload management and service delivery; and
  • Consider changing the structure of budgetary accounts.

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