An ASPE White Paper in Partnership with the Administration for Children and Families (ACF)
Ensuring children are in safe environments that promote health and development is a top priority of families, state and local regulators, the federal government, and national professional organizations that accredit early care and education programs (ECE). This white paper examines monitoring across ECE settings and considers lessons learned from analogous sectors of child welfare and health. This work synthesizes information we gathered through a review of the literature, state policy scan, and key informant discussions with state administrators, expert researchers on health and safety policy, and federal officials.
Although professional organizations in partnership with federal agencies developed national guidelines for health and safety, there is wide variation in state and local regulations around the minimum health and safety requirements for children in care. Areas of regulatory variation include:
- Thresholds for the number of children in licensed care at ECE facilities located in family child care homes (FCCs);
- The comprehensiveness of background checks for ECE provider staff and individuals residing at family child care homes; and
- The frequency of monitoring visits.
This paper examines existing practices in a range of ECE programs (Head Start, Child Care, Child and Adult Food Care Program) and discusses how they are evolving in ways that create opportunities for better alignment. We also offer promising practices from researchers and states that have previously implemented more stringent health and safety regulations for ECE providers.
Options for monitoring across ECE settings include:
- Monitoring policies and procedures could be aligned across funding streams, and grounded in a universal set of health, safety, and performance standards that are research-based and endorsed by professional organizations.
- After further validation by the research community, differential monitoring could be piloted and implemented to help states target technical assistance and monitoring resources to the ECE providers most at-risk for providing unsafe learning environments.
- Third party accreditation and credentialing by national organizations could be expanded. This strategy is widely used in analogous sectors.
- For ECE programs that are also federal grantees subject to monitoring, federal and state agencies could share any negative findings, or instances of non-compliance.
- Federal and state agencies could partner to increase understanding among the community of providers that the larger purpose of monitoring is to keep children, families, and staff safe.