COVID-19: What state administrators need now.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a new landscape for all of us since 2020. And it has likely impacted child care providers, and the families and communities that rely on these critical services, forever. Those who serve these groups have been forced to restructure how they think about the delivery of child care: how it is nurtured and sustained, and how the industry as a whole can drive improvements. We asked state administrators across the country what they need right now to help make these necessary adjustments. Read what some of our members said.

Timely, straight-forward answers to critical questions

It takes a village, as the saying goes. Transforming the delivery of child care requires help from everyone, and state administrators appreciate the assistance. As facilitators of such complex services, they understand that policy often lags behind implementation. Yet, feedback in real time is what they need while actually implementing the new programs and processes resulting from COVID-19. So far, answers have not been forthcoming, and states are forced to execute plans without the benefit of that knowledge.

Of particular interest to our members is the Office of Child Care’s monitoring process. Monitoring visits are made on a three-year cycle. Unfortunately, states are not receiving any information or even a formal monitoring report for a year or more after their visit. State administrators want to be diligent in their responses to these visits but need timely information to make appropriate adjustments.

Information regarding long-term expectations for CARES, ARPA and increased CCDF funding

States/territories are great stewards of public funding and appreciate the recently increased and much-deserved investment in child care. Grantees have been given a great deal of money to spend very quickly. Yet it has left state administrators wondering how they should structure new programs to be efficient, effective and if possible, sustainable.

“We’re flooding the market with money right now,” said one member and state administrator of a large southeastern state. “Providers will come to rely on that money, then it could likely be gone in two years.”

How do states then implement services that help transform child care and not create a cliff effect for families and providers? Systemic change requires thoughtful, long-term investments, not temporary services. That’s hard to deliver for state administrators who lack information about the long-term expectations of the increased funding and are still expected to balance the state budget and maintain program consistency across all services.

All of this raises questions for administrators about program integrity. Will the new monies be followed immediately by more frequent and stringent auditing reports and requirements? Will error rate reports be modified or become more intense? How will financial reports be handled and reconciled? Will financial or data estimates be allowed as they are now in some cases? Will there be a lessening of restrictions given these tumultuous times? To successfully navigate these waters, states need to know the full landscape of program expectations, not just the amount of funding and priorities for spending.

Relief on waiver extensions and corrective action plans based on individual grantee needs

In an era of big change, child care needs big ideas. However, rapid growth requires flexible government systems at the state, territory and national levels. State administrators ask national partners to design program requirements that states can strive to meet, but in a way that ensures customizable services to meet local family and community needs. Such an approach means allowing for federal requirement waivers and an expansive, state-friendly corrective action process.

One problematic example is the fingerprint and background check process, particularly as it relates to hiring new employees in child care facilities. The state administrator members we spoke with wholeheartedly support these critical checks; however, they indicated that the language used in the federal law isn’t compatible with the reality of how these federal systems operate. In addition, it doesn’t require federal agencies work together to ensure that the process works at the state level. 

In acknowledgment of this, the Office of Child Care thankfully has allowed a waiver and corrective action process since the passage of the requirement in 2014. It appears that some of these waivers may no longer be available to grantees, though, despite the reality that federal processes are still hindering their completion. Administrators are worried the resulting burden this places on states to figure it out or face financial penalties will negatively impact children and families.

“Waivers are expiring,” said another state administrator and SCCAN member, “yet no one has given us a way to solve the problem.” Full implementation of the requirement – during a time of such uncertainty and rapid program growth – seems ill-timed at best.

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