News Story

Earlier Subsidies Increase Access to Education Programs

August 25, 2014—Children of parents using child care subsidies to purchase center-based care for their toddlers are more likely to later enroll them in Head Start or public pre-kindergarten programs, according to a new study published in the journal Child Development.

“Our study highlights a previously unconsidered benefit of the subsidy program,” said Anna Johnson, assistant professor of psychology, who led the study.

“If subsidies at an earlier age, when Head Start and public pre-kindergarten are not yet widely available, help move children into those programs when children become age-eligible,” she continued, “then subsidies may provide another avenue through which policy can strengthen the early development of low-income children.”

Johnson collaborated on the research, which used nationally representative data on approximately 2,100 families eligible for subsidies, with Rebecca Ryan, also an assistant professor of psychology at Georgetown, and Anne Martin of Columbia University. The Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development at the National Institutes of Health supported the research.

The federal Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) serves nearly 2 million children a month and is one of the government’s biggest investments in the early care and education of low-income children, Johnson notes. 

While the CCDF program was designed primarily to support parental employment, it does have a secondary focus on increasing children’s access to high-quality care; nevertheless, CCDF-funded child care settings vary in the extent to which they have an explicit educational focus.

Public pre-K programs, in contrast, consistently aim to provide high-quality educational experiences for young children, as does Head Start, which also provides more comprehensive services.

“But public pre-K programs are not available to toddlers,” Johnson said, “and the version of Head Start for infants and toddlers, Early Head Start, is a much smaller program that serves only a small proportion of low-income infants and toddlers.”

In the study, researchers investigated whether receiving a CCDF subsidy for children who are two years old might increase the likelihood of them participating in Head Start or public pre-kindergarten when the programs become available for children ages three and four.

“In order to enhance outcomes for vulnerable children, we need to reach more children as early as possible and increase their exposure to care that prepares them for academic success,” she added. “Expanding the subsidy program to serve more of our youngest children might be one way to do that.”