Design, Sites, and Data Sources
The effects of various child care subsidy strategies were assessed at four sites:
In Miami-Dade County, the project studied whether literacy curricula could be implemented on a large scale in subsidized child care centers and whether they could improve children’s school readiness. Child care centers serving four-year-old subsidized children were randomly assigned to receive one of three literacy curricula, or they were assigned to a control group. In each of the program group centers, one classroom teacher was trained to deliver the literacy curriculum and used the curriculum in her classroom for two years. The study found that each of the curricula changed the way teachers behaved and interacted with children, while two of the three curricula had broad effects on children’s literacy.
In Massachusetts, the program tried to enhance how family child care homes focused on children’s early literacy skills and school readiness. Family child care homes caring for subsidized children under age three were randomly assigned to either the program or control group. Providers in the program group were trained to provide Learningames, which is designed to help caregivers provide rich language stimulation and become more nurturing and responsive in their one-on-one interactions with children. The evaluation measured changes in interactions between providers and children, as well as changes in children’s outcomes.
In Cook County, Illinois, the evaluation examined how receiving child care subsidies affected parents’ employment and child care choices. From March 2005 through April 2006, families who were not ordinarily eligible to receive subsidies because their income exceeded the Illinois income ceiling were randomly assigned to either become eligible to receive subsidies or to remain ineligible. For half of the program group families, the program also extended, from six months to a year, the period of time before families had to be recertified for child care assistance. The results suggest that approving families to receive subsidies did not lead to increased employment or earnings, but did affect a range of child care outcomes.
A statewide experiment in Washington tested the effects of reduced copayments for families who applied or reapplied for child care subsidies. Families who were approved to receive child care subsidies in a one-month period in fall 2005 were randomly assigned to either the current copayment schedule or to a lower copayment schedule. The evaluation was designed to determine whether lower copayments encouraged families to continue receiving child care subsidies, encouraged parents to increase their earnings, and influenced the type and stability of child care that was used. The results suggest that reduced copayments resulted in longer subsidy use but had little effect on employment or earnings.
In each site, the key component of the evaluation was an impact analysis that used a rigorous research design to measure the programs’ effects on outcomes, including employment, welfare use, and child well-being. Some prospective participants at each site were randomly assigned to one or more of the programs being studied, while the rest were randomly assigned to a control group. In Miami-Dade and Massachusetts, outcomes were measured through observations of child care environments and direct assessments of children. In Washington, outcomes were measured using two years of administrative records. In Illinois, outcomes were measured using both administrative records and a survey administered about two years after families entered the study.