A slate of changes to the state’s early childhood development and learning programs are in the works, including extending how long children can access subsidized child care and providing more assistance to low-income families.
Pennsylvania stands to receive $188 million from the federal government as part of the Child Care and Development Block Grant, which was reauthorized by Congress in 2014 for the first time in 20 years. The state is also able to match up to $103.7 million through multiple funds.
The law was updated to better reflect the evolving mission of the Child Care Development Fund, which is tasked with both promoting "families’ economic self-sufficiency by making child care more affordable and fostering healthy child development and school success by improving the overall quality of early learning and afterschool programs," then-director of the Office of Child Care in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Shannon Rudisill said at the time.
As of 2013, 92,000 Pennsylvania children were eligible for assistance through the grant.
A few changes in the state Child Care Works program are already taking effect. Qualified families receive financial assistance for child care. Previously, low-income earners had to report any financial changes in their lives every six months. Those families now only have to report every 12 months.
“When folks need their child care the most, when they’re sick or they might have temporarily gotten laid off at their job and have to look for another one, they’ll have that child care to rely on,” Pennsylvania Department of Human Services Secretary Ted Dallas said.
Before, if a parent didn’t meet employment requirements in the six-month review, they would no longer receive subsidized child care. Dallas said the extension will help ensure children have access to care and allow parents more time to look for work, if needed.
“The parent doesn’t have to worry about their child losing child care, doesn’t have to stay home and provide child care while they’re looking for a job. And it frees them up to make sure they can get back to work as quickly as possible and get a good, family-sustaining job that will hopefully get them out of poverty or raise their income over time,” he said.
Plus, Dallas said, the children will benefit from having consistent care.
“Everyone from Fortune 500 CEOs to advocates to parents understand that that early childhood instruction, that early learning, has huge impacts and has the potential to have a big impact on that child’s life as they enter adulthood,” he said.
Pennsylvania officials are expected to submit a plan that also includes unannounced inspections and pediatric first aid training for all child care providers as well as proposals to recruit and retain an effective child care workforce throughout the state.
The changes to the state’s early childhood development programs were made following a series of public listening sessions in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, King of Prussia and Harrisburg. They're being finalized and are expected to be approved by federal officials in March.