Education and CareEarly Childhood Programs and Services for Low-Income Families Gao ID: HEHS-00-11 November 15, 1999
The federal government, primarily through the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Education, spent about $11 billion in 1999 on a range of programs for early childhood care and education for low-income children. The states spent nearly $4 billion. Thirty-two states funded preschool programs, 15 supplemented Head Start funds, and 19 had child care programs that provided funding to communities. Educationally oriented services were the most common in centers and homes. Low-income families nevertheless found it hard to obtain infant and toddler care, care for children with special needs (such as those with physical disabilities), and care during evenings and weekends. Three major barriers included cost, availability, and accessibility to providers. Some states and localities using collaborative initiatives report varying degrees of success at increasing the availability of care, depending on different eligibility requirements, concerns about losing program authority, and lack of information or funding for collaboration. Infant and toddler care, care during nonstandard hours, and care for children with special needs have the greatest need for support.
GAO noted that: (1) the federal government invested about $11 billion in fiscal year 1999 on early childhood care and education programs for low-income children through a range of programs and the states invested almost $4 billion for such programs; (2) the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) provides most of the federal support for early childhood care and education, about $8 billion, through the Head Start program and the Child Care and Development Fund, which subsidizes the child care expenses of low-income working parents; (3) other HHS and Department of Education programs provide the remaining funding for early childhood care and education; (4) 32 states reported funding preschool programs, 15 states reported providing state money to supplement Head Start, and 19 states reported child care programs that provided funding to communities; (5) GAO's survey results showed that educationally oriented services were the most common services providers offered in centers and homes; (6) providers were less likely to include other services; (7) although a number of federal and state programs provided significant funds for early childhood care and education, some types of child care were still difficult for low-income families to obtain, including: (a) infant and toddler care; (b) care for children who have special needs; and (c) care for children during nonstandard hours; (8) in contrast, a majority of the survey respondents indicated that care for 3- and 4-year-olds was generally not difficult to obtain; (9) childcare administrators identified three major barriers to finding care for low-income children: (a) cost of care, especially for infants and toddlers; (b) availability; and (c) accessibility; (10) some states and localities are using collaborative initiatives to better bridge child care programs and early childhood education programs as well as the federal and state programs; (11) all the states GAO visited reported increased availability of full-time care for 3- to 5-year-olds as a result of collaborative efforts and more limited success in increasing the availability of infant and toddler care or care during nonstandard hours; (12) however, barriers to collaboration still remain, according to state officials and survey respondents; and (13) the types of care that have the greatest need for support are infant and toddler care, care during nonstandard hours, and care for children with special needs.