ILLINOIS CHILD CARE ASSISTANCE PROGRAM
- Child care is a necessity for all working parents.
- Because many low-income, working parents change jobs often, young children are often moved from one child care setting to another.
- Consistent, quality child care is too often not available or not affordable.
The demands of life coupled with existing social policies sometimes leave parents in a paradox as they search for consistent, quality care for their young children.
How can we as a community create a system of early care and education that promotes continuity, provides quality services, and is affordable and accessible for families?
We can plan and work together to develop comprehensive early care and education services that best meets the needs of the families living in the community.
- To ensure that all children are safe while their parents are working and/or going to school/training.
- To develop a system that promotes quality, consistency, and efficiency in early care and education for all children and their families.
- To prepare children to be “ready to learn” when they enter school and, as a result, be successful students.
Children and families in Illinois have many early care and education needs and may be getting only some of those needs met through their early childhood experience. The people who work in these programs would like to be able to provide more comprehensive support for children and families but their ability to do so is sometimes limited by funding. In many cases it is difficult to enrich, expand, or enhance their services to meet the needs of their families. As low-income families face increasing challenges, they also become frustrated that programs cannot provide the services they require.
A growing number of early childhood providers are seeking ways to partner with others to serve the many needs of families. In the State of Illinois, there are numerous coordinated efforts to improve the linkages between child care, pre-kindergarten, and Head Start programs, as well as local linkages among these programs and community health, mental health, and social services.
The purpose of this guidebook is to assist you in collaborating with partners in planning and developing ways to efficiently provide quality, consistent early care and education services to children and families. This guide can assist you in:
- Traditional and New Approaches
- Recognizing the Benefits of Partnerships
- Working Together
- Financing the Partnership
- Overview of the Illinois Child Care Assistance Program.
The Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) is administered by the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) Bureau of Child Care & Development. The Bureau’s primary goals are to provide low income families access to affordable, quality early care and education while parents are working or participating in an approved education/training activity and ensuring that children are cared for in a safe, healthy environment that meets their developmental needs. The Bureau funds the Child Care Resource & Referral agencies and Site Administered contracted providers to create a delivery system in assisting families with their child care needs.
Child care providers in Illinois normally offer a full day of care that coincides with traditional work hours. The delivery system is primarily a fee-for-service system in which parents, as consumers, purchase care for their children by paying a portion of the fee and the state paying the remaining balance. This fee is based on the family income and what they can afford to pay and not on the actual cost of providing care.
While many child care programs would like to offer health and social services, most lack the resources to do so. Limited family incomes and state reimbursement rates make it difficult to finance programs that provide enhanced services with intense staff training and support. Public child care funding streams generally are created to help parents work. They are neither funded nor designed to support comprehensive services for children and families.
Early/Head Start (E/HS) is a national comprehensive child & family development program designed to help low-income children birth to age five enter school ready to learn and succeed. It provides education, health, nutrition, parent involvement, and social services as well as services to children with special needs and their families. E/HS is unique because parents are given the opportunity to design, govern, and make decisions about the program that affects their children and families.
E/HS in Illinois is funded by the federal Administration for Children and Families, Region V, that awards grants to community agencies throughout the state.
For the most part, E/HS operates half day slots in Illinois. Not only is E/HS not serving all of the eligible children and families, but also in Illinois, programs across the state have faced rapid increases in the number of E/HS eligible children who need full day, full year services. Many programs lack the space, staff, and financial resources to develop full day, full year services. As a result, programs are seeking ways to expand current hours and days of service, while ensuring quality, consistent early care and education for young children.
Illinois State Board of Education Early Childhood Block Grant includes three initiatives. The Pre-Kindergarten At Risk Initiative is an educational program for children ages 3-5 that also provides parents of participating children with educational and involvement opportunities. Pre-K At-Risk programs serve children who, because of their home and community environment, are subject to such language, economic, and like disadvantages that they are determined through a screening process to be at risk of academic failure. The screening component determines a child’s eligibility and should be conducted on a community wide basis in cooperation with other similar programs operating in the local school district. The education component offers an appropriate education program that includes parent education & involvement activities, activities which provide for student progress plans to be shared with parents, and contains language & literacy development opportunities for each child. The Parental Training Initiative is designed for parents of children in the period of life from birth to kindergarten enrollment age, with special emphasis on single and married parents who are expecting their first child within three months, or who have no children other than a child under three years old. The program provides activities requiring substantial participation of and interaction between the parents and children. The Prevention Initiative is aimed at creating a partnership to support the development of infants and children from birth to age three by focusing on the child and family through a network of child and family service providers, offering coordinated services to at-risk infants, toddlers, and their families. This initiative provides case management services to coordinate existing services available in the community and develop an individual family service plan.
Ideally, funding levels and program policies would allow all early care and education programs serving low-income children to enrich their services to meet the full range of needs of the children and families they serve. In the absence of such comprehensive policies, many innovative partnerships are forging ahead with program designs that offer a combination of early childhood services. These initiatives combine the strengths of each partner and expand the reach and scope of the services they can offer to children and families. Collaborative partnerships include single-site agencies, child care centers, family child care providers, and multi-service agencies serving one or more counties. They cover urban and rural communities. While some of the collaborations link the services of two or more separate organizations, some combine the programs offered within a single multi-service organization.
All of the early childhood partnerships have overcome significant challenges in their efforts to improve services for low-income children and families. Programs have used their partnerships as creative vehicles for positive change. Many early care and education providers contend with such issues as: inadequate salaries and benefits, limited
resources for improving curriculum and materials, reimbursement rates, insufficient funds for constructing or improving facilities, and more in their efforts to offer high quality early childhood programs. These partnerships also faced challenges such as tax issues and differing funding policies in combining distinct programs. Yet these partners have been able to discover mutual benefits, establish trust, and overcome the reluctance to share resources and decision-making. Partners have also shown that it is possible to coordinate resources, satisfy the requirements associated with multiple funding streams, and enhance the quality of services for children and families.
While the collaborative initiatives vary in scope and design, they all enhance quality and expand services to children and families, that can include:
- Full day, full year care and education that allow children to be safe and involved in a developmentally appropriate environment while parents are working and/or going to school;
- Family support services that help families identify and use available resources within their community;
- Health services that provide medical & dental screenings and follow-up services to ensure children’s healthy development;
- Parent involvement services that enhance parents’ ability to nurture and support their children’s development by encouraging them to more fully participate in the program; and
- A commitment to quality that ensures that the programs’ services meet all appropriate standards.
RECOGNIZING THE BENEFITS OF
- Access to Health and Family Support Services. Children who receive E/HS services through a collaborative program would have access to health, nutritional, dental, mental health, disabilities and family support services that they would not otherwise receive.
- Full Day, Full Year Early Care and Education. By collaborating, programs can provide full day, full year early care and education to the families that are working or enrolled in training/school.
- Continuity of Care. Programs can ensure “best practices” by collaborating to provide services at a single location instead of transporting children from one site to another for a full day of care. This provides continuity of care for children, who benefit greatly from a relationship with a primary caregiver in a single setting.
- Operating Programs in a Cost-Effective Manner and Maximizing the Use of the Facilities. By collaborating, programs can avoid the challenge of finding new space and reduce start-up expenses.
- Serving a Wider Range of Children. Collaboration opens the door for siblings to be enrolled at a single site for working parents. This can include children birth - school-age which may improve the experience for some children.
- Quality Improvement. Collaborations are helping programs improve their access to additional resources. By combining resources, programs are able to: improve staff/child ratios, enhance staff/parent training, increase staff professional development, and purchase equipment & supplies.
- Ability to Serve Rural Areas. Because transportation is sometimes an issue in rural areas, programs can partner at a single location and offer multiple services. This increases services available to families in low-density areas, while reducing transportation cost.
- Ability to Offer More Options. Blending services allows parents several options to choose from and promotes parent choice. Parents can choose the early care environment that best meets the needs of their child.
- New/Unserved Communities - by collaborating, programs have been able to extend comprehensive services to new communities and populations.
- Ability to Provide Flexible Hours of Services. Partnerships allow programs to offer more flexible hours that fit work and/or training schedule of the parent(s).
- Consistent Early Care & Education Systems Within the Community. Collaborating with other programs in the community promotes seamless services for low-income families and strengthens the local early childhood system and resources.
- Intra-Agency Work: Doing your homework. Prior to finding a partner, a program should complete a community needs assessment to identify early care needs for and begin planning accordingly. The agency also needs to explore its “readiness” to be a partner.
“How are we doing on our own?”
“Are services to families well-integrated within our own agency?” “How well are we connected with other agencies offering services which our families need?”
“Do we need to change?”
“What resource limitations do we face in bringing more comprehensive services to our families?”
“How might closer relationships with other agencies help us improve outcomes for the families we serve?” “How ready are we to engage in interagency partnerships?”
“Do the agencies serving children and families in our neighborhood, our school community, our city, our county, have a common vision of what they are trying to accomplish?”
“What is the history of cooperation and collaboration in our neighborhood, community, city/county? What lessons can we learn from past experience?”
“What are we willing to pay in terms of tangible resources and loss of unilateral control to formulate common goals with other agencies and to better serve our shared families?”
“What is the reputation of the prospective partner?”
“Is the prospective partner financially stable?”
If there are sufficient benefits to collaborating to provide the services, a program should develop criteria for identifying a partner. Prospective partners should:
1) share a similar mission and vision;
2) be an agency which is “predisposed” to the cause; and,
3) be an agency which maintains a level of quality that would not require substantial changes to meet program performance standards.
A program must clarify its vision for a partner, goals for the partnership relationship, and what each will bring to the partnership.
- Finding A Partner. Once a program knows what kind of partner it is seeking, it can reach out to potential partners. This can be done in different ways, such as call and set-up meeting with agencies with whom you already have a successful relationship or send out a written notice in the form of a letter or Request for Proposal (RFP). Information given to potential partners should include the plans for the collaboration, an outline of the characteristics sought in potential partners, and initial goals for the collaboration.
When choosing a partner, organizations should:
- Develop criteria and a method of evaluating suitability;
- Consider only compatible partners.
- Service Delivery. “Planning Ahead” is the most frequently mentioned recommendation from existing collaborative partners. Both parties must spend adequate time planning together, making joint decisions and addressing issues that require careful consideration. Successful partners will have open and clearly identified lines of communication, share ideas, learn each other’s program, clarify expectations, involve prospective staff, and coordinate/define objectives and responsibilities. Also, involve the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services Licensing Representative during the planning stage. They can provide the partnership with guidance and technical assistance regarding licensing standards/issues.
- Contracts and Agreements. When combining the services of two or more programs, there should be a written agreement that describes the parameters of the collaboration. It should include: an outline of the services to be provided; the responsibility of each partner to each service delivery area; the eligibility criteria of the children and families to be served; specific quality standards requirements; financial and/or other contributions that will be made by each partner; specific information about lines of authority for each element of the collaboration; reporting/communication schedule & method; program monitoring & evaluation tools and responsibilities; and, specific legal issues. It is always advised that agencies consult an attorney and their Governing Board when executing written contracts and/or agreements.
FINANCING THE PARTNERSHIP: Two closely related issues involved in financing a partnership are the parameters & requirements of the funding streams and how to share and account for financial resources. Partners must ensure that they are sharing resources in a manner that achieves the goals of the collaboration and are providing appropriate accountability for funders.
- Multiple Funding Streams. As partnerships blend or braid funding streams to provide services to children & families, they will face many challenges and conflicting requirements. Each funding source has its own set of eligibility and reporting requirements that requires programs to ensure that expenses are allocated to the correct source. Because some funding sources view programs in terms of service hours and slots, partnerships must translate their services into terms that can be easily understood by and meet the requirements of all funding sources. Partnerships also need to clarify terms and definitions used by the funding source, i.e., How many hours a day constitutes a full day of service? How many hours a day constitutes a half day? How many months constitutes a full program year?
- Sharing and Accounting for Financial Resources. There are many ways to share and account for the cost of services provided by the collaboration. Programs must determine how to divide the cost of services between the budgets of each partner.
- Blending or Braiding Budgets requires the agency and/or partners to put their funds together and allocate costs based on the particular program components. This allows all children to receive the same services and requires the administration to sort out the finances for the funders.
- Shared Cost Based on Eligibility requires programs to allocate a cost per child amount for services and reimburse the partner that amount for each child receiving the services.
- Sharing Services, Not Money gives each partner the responsibility of providing a part of the menu of services. The total menu of services for children and families is coordinated between the programs.
- Using Certificates allows part day programs to extend their services to full day by assisting parents in obtaining a CCAP Certificate to pay for the child care part of the day for working families.
- Parent Fees are paid by parents in the CCAP. This fee is on a sliding scale and is based on the family income and size. There are no parent fees for E/HS and State PreK programs. Collaborations have handled this issue by: charging the parent fee based on the child care part of the day or using other funding/scholarships to offset the parent fee amount.