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Serv and Return:
Providers Using Child Care Subsidies to Care for Their Own Children

“Serv and Return”is an occasional series that spotlights a recent exchange on the Alliance listserv—a widely used channel for the network to provide rapid-response resources and support to one another.   

A few weeks ago, the Alliance network responded to a question from a peer in Nebraska:

“I’m looking for some clarification on federal and state regulations regarding caring for your own children through CCDGB assistance programs.” 

Advocates from across the country responded with the latest guidance.

Although an increasing number of states have passed policies that extend subsidy eligibility to child care staff, there are some perceived grey areas about whether those policies allow child care providers to use subsidies to care for their own children, specifically in home-based programs. 

The federal policy defines an Eligible Child Care Provider as (1) A center-based child care provider, a family child care provider, an in-home child care provider, or other provider of child care services for compensation that—  

(i) Is licensed, regulated, or registered under applicable State or local law as described in § 98.40; and  

(ii) Satisfies State and local requirements, including those referred to in § 98.41 applicable to the child care services it provides; or  

(2) A child care provider who is 18 years of age or older who provides child care services only to eligible children who are, by marriage, blood relationship, or court decree, the grandchild, great grandchild, siblings (if such provider lives in separate residence), niece, or nephew of such provider, and complies with any applicable requirements that govern child care provided by the relative involved 

That section also defines Family Child Care Provider: 

Family child care provider means one or more individual(s) who provide child care services for fewer than 24 hours per day per child, in a private residence other than the child’s residence, unless care in excess of 24 hours is due to the nature of the parent(s)’ work. 

On the listserv and at the February meeting of the Alliance’s peer learning community on the early care and education profession, advocates shared what the current policy for subsidy eligibility is in their respective states. In most cases, states do not allow a provider or educator to use a subsidy to care for their own child. However, with some ambiguity in the above language, and with no specific language about parents listed in the definition, some believe that the policy could allow for such uses of a subsidy.  

In some states where subsidies are extended to child care providers, the law is implemented in ways where the teacher is not caring for their own child, but the student may be attending the same program or using the subsidy for an alternate version of care.

For example, an advocate from Kentucky shared that their “regulation specifically states that you cannot receive subsidy to care for your own child. For centers to use the free childcare for childcare providers, then the teacher and their child would need to be in different classrooms. The family childcare home providers that are using the free childcare for childcare providers are using it for public school afterschool care, or in some cases, childcare providers that have swapped kiddos because of the ages of children that they care for in their home.” Advocates from Oregon and Rhode Island shared that they had similar policies.  

In Utah, there is a “Friends Family & Neighbor” program that allows people to have a relative or friend accept a subsidy for watching children. There may be a possibility for the child to be cared for in their own home but that is not specified in the regulation language.  

The advocate in Utah also wondered why a licensed home-based provider cannot receive a subsidy for her own child, if she is required to count her own child toward the program’s adult-child ratio. Indeed, by not receiving a subsidy for her own child and not being able to enroll one more child, the provider is essentially foregoing revenue by keeping her child in her own home. 

At the Alliance’s peer learning community, some also brought up the point that CACFP currently allows some family child care (FCC) providers to claim reimbursement for food expenses for their own children during program hours if they are enrolled in their parent’s program. Members of Congress have also introduced bills that will make it possible for all FCC providers to do this. While that’s a different law, there appears to be some internal inconsistency among federal policies, which could potentially be pointed to as reason for changing or clarifying the law. 

We also learned that in Massachusetts, the Department of Early Education and Care recently issued guidance that allows home-based providers to use subsidies to care for their own child.  The  policy states: 

To honor parent choice, family child care providers and their assistants will be able to access financial assistance for their own child(ren) or foster child(ren) to receive subsidized education and care services in their Family Child Care home or the home in which they are employed provided that: 

  • the family child care provider is willing to accept a voucher;  
  • the family child care provider is willing to accept enrollment of at least two unrelated children; 
  • there is capacity to allow the provider’s child(ren) to be enrolled without displacing another child(ren); and  
  • the provider adheres to the family child care licensing capacity requirements established in 606 CMR 7.03(5)(c) regarding the children considered to be in the care of the provider.   

This strategy to provide an additional benefit to child care providers continues to spread in states. In recent months, Arkansas has implemented this policy, although it does not include provision for home-based providers to use subsidies for their own children. Bills have also been introduced in Illinois and New Hampshire.

This is in addition to efforts in Nebraska and other states that have implemented this policy, as reported in the Alliance’s 2023 Child Care Policy Roadmap 

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