Child Care and Early Childhood Education:

More Information Sharing and Program Review by HHS Could Enhance Access for Families with Limited English Proficiency

GAO-06-807: Published: Aug 17, 2006. Publicly Released: Sep 18, 2006.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Marlene S. Shaul
(202) 512-6778
contact@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

Questions have been raised about whether parents with limited English proficiency are having difficulty accessing child care and early education programs for their children. Research suggests that quality early care experiences can greatly improve the school readiness of young children. GAO was asked to provide information on (1) the participation of these children in programs funded through the Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) and Head Start, (2) the challenges these families face in accessing programs, (3) assistance that selected state and local entities provide to them, and (4) actions taken by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to ensure program access. To obtain this information, GAO analyzed program and national survey data, interviewed officials in 5 states and 11 counties, held 12 focus groups with mothers with limited English proficiency, and interviewed experts and HHS officials.

HHS's Child Care Bureau (CCB) did not have information on the total enrollment in CCDF programs of children whose parents had limited English proficiency, but data collected by its Office of Head Start in 2003 showed that about 13 percent of parents whose children were in Head Start reported having limited English proficiency. The most recent (1998) national survey data showed that children of parents with limited English proficiency were less likely than other children to receive financial assistance for child care from a social service or welfare agency or to be in Head Start, after controlling for selected characteristics. Eighty-eight percent of these children were Hispanic, and their results differed from Asian children. Analysis of data from focus groups and site visit interviews held by GAO revealed that mothers with limited English proficiency faced multiple challenges, including lack of awareness of available assistance, language barriers during the application process, and difficulty communicating with English-speaking providers. Some of the challenges that low-income parents with limited English proficiency experienced, such as lack of transportation and shortage of subsidized child care slots, were common to other low-income families. The majority of state and local agencies that we visited offered some oral and written language assistance, such as bilingual staff or translated applications. Agencies in the majority of locations visited also made efforts to increase the supply of providers who could communicate with parents. Officials reported challenges in serving parents with limited English proficiency, such as difficulty hiring qualified bilingual staff. Some officials indicated that additional information on cost-effective strategies to serve this population would facilitate their efforts. HHS issued guidance, translated materials, and provided technical assistance to grantees to help them serve children of parents with limited English proficiency. The Office of Head Start reviewed programs' assessments of their communities' needs and conducted formal monitoring reviews, but could not ensure that review teams consistently assessed grantees' performance on the standards related to language access. CCB reviewed states' plans on the use of CCDF funds generally and investigated specific complaints, but had no mechanism for reviewing how and whether states provide access to CCDF subsidies for eligible children of parents with limited English proficiency.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In 2007, ACF funded three Child Care Policy Research Grants to examine issues related to preferences and access to child care and subsidies of language minority populations. In 2008, ACF hosted the Language Minority Roundtable to engage in dialogue on how research can support policymakers and practitioners to serve the language/literacy needs of young children and their families. Through contracts and cooperative agreements, ACF has supported several websites in Spanish for states and families (e.g., www.childcare.gov, www.childcareaware.org/sp, and nccic.acf.hhs.gov/spanish/index.html). ACF also points to contractors' and grantees' development of consumer information and education publications in Spanish and subscription to a service offering translation capabilities. ACF reported that in FY09 it is awarding a cooperative agreement for the creation of a Center for Research in Early Care and Education to focus on dual language learners (DLLs) from birth through 5 years of age and their families. The Center, ACF reported, will identify and advance best practices and strategies in early care and education programming to support young DLLs and to effectively support their families. Center-based and home-based programs and family child care providers are included in the settings to be examined. ACF reports that children in families who speak languages other than English, with low-income status and/or social disadvantages, such as limited educational attainment or residence in economically disadvantaged areas, will receive particular attention.

    Recommendation: To help state and local agencies plan for language assistance and assess whether they provide meaningful access to eligible children, regardless of their parents' English ability, CCB should work with states to help them explore cost-effective strategies for collecting data on CCDF subsidy recipients' language preference or English proficiency and comparing these data with available information on community demographics. Once these data are available, HHS may consider collecting information on existing cost-effective ways for agencies to provide language assistance and to recruit providers who speak other languages, as well as disseminating this information in the locations where the data show the greatest need.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services: Administration for Children and Families: Office of the Child Care Bureau

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: ACF revised the 2008-09 and 2010-2011 Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) plan templates requiring states to describe how the Lead Agency reaches out and provides services to eligible families with limited English proficiency, including how the Lead Agency overcomes language barriers with families and providers.

    Recommendation: To provide opportunities to parents with limited English proficiency to access federal child care subsidies for their children, HHS should develop and implement specific steps to review whether and how states provide access to CCDF programs for eligible children of parents with limited English proficiency, as well as provide information to help states evaluate their progress in this area. Specifically, HHS should revise the CCDF plan template to require states to report on how they will provide meaningful access to parents with limited English proficiency seeking CCDF subsidies for their children.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: ACF published a summary of the broad range of activities that states reported in their 2008-09 state plans as means of outreach and service provision for eligible families with limited English proficiency (see http://nccic.acf.hhs.gov/pubs/stateplan2008-09/part4.pdf).

    Recommendation: To provide opportunities to parents with limited English proficiency to access federal child care subsidies for their children, HHS should develop and implement specific steps to review whether and how states provide access to CCDF programs for eligible children of parents with limited English proficiency, as well as provide information to help states evaluate their progress in this area. Specifically, HHS should systematically review states' program eligibility criteria for CCDF subsidies to ensure that states comply with HHS policies related to participation by children of parents with limited English proficiency.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

 

Explore the full database of GAO's Open Recommendations »

Sep 24, 2014

Sep 10, 2014

Aug 22, 2014

Jul 16, 2014

Jun 16, 2014

Jun 4, 2014

Apr 30, 2014

Mar 12, 2014

Looking for more? Browse all our products here