Early childhood advocates in Connecticut have been working for years to expand the state child care subsidy, one of the few state subsidies that offers no assistance to parents who are searching for work or completing a job training program. When attention for two bills aimed at this effort was diverted because of COVID-19, advocates — including our allies at Connecticut Association for Human Services and Connecticut Early Childhood Alliance—looked for non-legislative paths to expand access instead.
Advocates worked with homelessness service providers to change the procedures at the point of entry to services to begin screening for Head Start eligibility so that eligible children could be enrolled automatically. And advocates got the attention of the governor through their monthly childcare provider meetings, where they helped him see the economic importance of childcare access. As a result, he committed to using CARES Act funds to cover childcare costs while parents are receiving job training.
Connecting Homelessness Services with Head Start
Before COVID-19 hit, the appropriations committee was considering a bill to provide childcare subsidies to families experiencing homelessness. When this bill was abandoned, Connecticut Early Childhood Alliance convened a meeting with homelessness service providers and childcare and pre-k providers to plan a way forward. One thing that came to light in these meetings was that there was a disconnect in the ways that families were referred for programs, especially Head Start.
Although families experiencing homeless automatically qualified for Head Start, homelessness service providers did not necessarily know that this was an option or how to help families access this, and although Head Start providers did targeted outreach to homeless shelters, they were missing many families who were referred to services outside of the shelter system.
When this information gap was discovered, the service providers came together to redesign the way families were screened for services when they called 211 for a referral. Under the new system, families who call in for homelessness services are automatically screened for Head Start eligibility and enrolled for services if they qualify. This was accomplished by redesigning the screener questions and providing 211 with a database of open Head Start seats.
“We did this through relationship building, through local influencers, and by connecting the pieces and bringing everybody together and pointing folks in the right direction. When you have to think differently, you really have to start pushing things from different directions, and that leads to opportunity. Even if it is not the answer you were looking for, it is a step in the right direction.”
Elizabeth Fraser, Policy Director
Connecticut Association for Human Services
While providing easier access to Head Start services only put a dent into the need for childcare access for homeless families, advocates are hopeful that it can help them make the case for future legislation to further expand services.
Extending Childcare Subsidies for Job Seekers
Another bill making its way through the legislative process prior to COVID-19 was meant to expand the childcare subsidies to parents enrolled in higher education or a job training program, but the pandemic diverted the attention of both lawmakers and advocates.
In order to support child care providers in the state, Connecticut Association for Human Services convened weekly virtual meetings for providers to discuss needs, share strategies, and plan for advocacy. One of these meetings was attended by Governor Ned Lamont and Commissioner Beth Bye from the Office of Early Childhood. At the meeting, the governor was particularly struck by providers’ stories of not being able to provide access to parents who were seeking jobs or receiving training.
Given the governor’s focus on workforce development, the meeting helped him make the connection between childcare and economic development. As a result, he made childcare a priority within his Governor’s Workforce Council. The 2020 strategic plan includes a call to expand the capacity of the childcare and early childhood education system. And more immediately, he committed $5 million of CARES Act Economic Development funding to provide childcare for parents enrolled in job training programs.
“The job training support that we got through the CARES Act set a precedent. Everyone saw that it could be successful. We got slots for kids in childcare, and we got parents finishing their training program. Now, we can show them that all we need to do is change our rules a bit, and we can continue doing that.” said Merrill Gay, Executive Director Connecticut Early Childhood Alliance.
Recently, Governor Lamont committed $50 million of the ARPA CCDF funds to pay for child care for parents in education or job training. Legislation to make these parents eligible for subsidies still awaits approval in the General Assembly.