A look past the cliff – early insights into a child care assistance pilot program

Originally published by the Bell Policy Center

By Natalie O’Donnell Wood
November 1, 2016

“These are hard-working families, and I really think it’s a segment of our population that we need to support.” These words, spoken by a county administrator in a mountain community, convey the sentiments of many of the administrators that the Bell interviewed for our ongoing assessment of the Cliff Effect Pilot Program for the Colorado Child Care Assistance Program (CCCAP).

The pilot program provides a portion of child care funds to Colorado families who would otherwise lose all child care assistance because of raises or promotions. Ultimately, the pilot aims to provide stability for families so that they can continue to advance economically and professionally. Currently, 10 counties are administering pilots, and the Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS) has reached out to others to expand the pilot, per legislation passed this year.

The Bell revealed initial insights from our assessment of the pilots at the 2016 Colorado Child Care Assistance Program and Licensing Conference. The conference, hosted by the Office of Early Childhood within CDHS, provided learning opportunities for state and local CCCAP and child care licensing staff. We shared valuable preliminary information with county administrators about the implementation of the pilot program, the experiences of participating counties and the impact on families.

Some of our key takeaways include:

  • Counties have a fair amount of latitude in designing their pilots and as such have structured them in a variety of ways. Some counties are satisfied with the degree of autonomy, but others expressed that they could have benefited from assistance with elements of the project design and administration, such as how frequently to raise parent co-pays and by what amount.
  • Pilot counties, like all counties, are dealing with many changes to the CCCAP program in general. These are largely due to recently passed legislation that places emphasis on enhanced payments for high-quality child care. Counties are raising questions about how these changes might affect the number of families eligible for the pilot and how they might need to readjust its implementation.
  • Counties differ in their approaches to communicating information about the pilot to families. Some may choose to convey information about it when a family first applies for CCCAP; others may wait until a family’s income makes them eligible for the pilot (and when they know more about CCCAP in general). The timing and method of communication may impact a family’s willingness to earn more income in the future.
  • Families have shared that child care is an essential support, the child care cliff is a major concern and that pilot participation has given them an invaluable source of security. Families have also conveyed that they are making career choices that keep them advancing and improving – even if it means shouldering more child care costs. According to one parent who earned too much to remain on the pilot, “I couldn’t go backwards. I would have had to take a huge pay cut at work. And that is just ridiculous.”

The Bell will continue to gather statistical and qualitative data analysis on CCCAP and the pilot through the end of the year. Sign up for our email list so you don’t miss our final report on this issue.