A day care subsidy program offered by the state has undergone significant changes recently.
Family Connection Glynn County sponsored an event Tuesday to provide the community with information about the new rate structure and policies for the Childcare and Parent Services, or CAPS, subsidy that is offered by the state through the Department of Early Care and Learning, or DECAL.
Representatives from DECAL explained the many recent CAPS changes to the meeting’s attendees, who included foster parents, child care providers, stakeholders, educators and local advocates.
The CAPS program supports early education by helping low-income families with the cost of child care.
The program was previously run by Georgia’s Department of Family and Children Services. A little over two years ago, the program began a transition to be supervised by DECAL, the state agency that also supervises the licensing of child care programs in Georgia and the fairly new “Quality Rated” standard that all child care programs will be expected to undergo in the future if the programs can accept CAPS funding or students who receive CAPS scholarships.
The CAPS program has been fully functioning in DECAL since February 2017. The DECAL staff working for CAPS grew from six people to more than 250.
“Along with the transition, we kind of re- envisioned the CAPS program,” said Tina Crooms, a family support consultant at DECAL. “… We wanted to make sure that we have an early education program for our children and that we have additional support resources for our families.”
CAPS certificates are now called scholarships, Crooms said.
Children can receive CAPS scholarships from birth to age 13. If a child has a disability and a court has ordered for that child to receive CAPS, the child can receive assistance until the age of 18.
The program’s budget can only serve about 50,000 children a week, Crooms said, so priority groups are established to determine those who most need aid.
“When they apply, they have to fall within one of these priority groups,” Crooms said. “… Once they’re in and reach their annual redetermination, they will not have to meet a priority group requirement.”
Other eligibility requirements include Georgia residency and participation in a state-approved activity.
There is also an income requirement.
“Once a family applies for CAPS, the initial application, then their income must be at or below 50 percent of the state median income,” Crooms said. “Once they are approved, we want to retain them in the CAPS program … so that the kids can continue to receive quality education.”
When families reapply, they only have to be at or below 85 percent of the state median income to remain in the program.
The program also changed its “family fee” structure, through which families who are eligible for child care services may be required to pay a portion of the cost of child care through family- assessed fees.
“That has changed now, in that the family fee is divided evenly among the number of children you have receiving care, so that we can actually give discounts to those providers that are Quality Rated,” Crooms said.
A push for Quality Rated
The Quality Rated Child Care program in Georgia assigns one, two or three stars to early education and school-age programs that meet or exceed minimum state requirements.
The program is voluntary for early education programs to undergo. But, DECAL has set a deadline of Dec. 31, 2020, for programs to be Quality Rated by in order for families with CAPS scholarships to attend or for the program to receive CAPS funding.
Programs need to start the process soon, said Angela Melton, an agency manager for Child Care Resource & Referral of Southeast Georgia, as the entire rating process takes approximately 18 months.
“(This policy is) here because we are overseeing these federal dollars, and we are committed to ensuring that these dollars are placed in programs that are working towards quality by the measure in Georgia,” Melton said.
Melton said the push for more programs to be Quality Rated must come from parents demanding that programs do so.
“We’ve had a lot of programs that felt, ‘We’re such high quality, we do not accept the CAPS scholarship. We don’t need to do this. We don’t need your money. We have our own,’” Melton said.
But as more families refuse to enroll their children in a program unless it’s Quality Rated, more programs are going through the rating process, she said.
“If families are asking, it’s important enough for them to go ahead and do it,” she said.
Aiming for affordable care
Affordable child care is a significant barrier for many Glynn County families, said Melina Ennis-Roughton, executive director of Family Connection Glynn County. Many families’ annual salaries fall in the gap between being able to qualify for the state’s low-income HeadStart preschool programs and being enough to cover the average weekly cost of $125-$150 for child care.
“We’re grateful to have those jobs,” she said. “The issue is just looking at the math, and the math does not work. The math of making $10 an hour and trying to pay for one or two children’s child care without a subsidy, it just doesn’t add up.”
Growing up in poverty often creates a barrier against which low-income children in Glynn County are not able to keep up with their peers from higher-income families.
“Our low-income children, without a HeadStart program or pre-K, they start school with a listening vocabulary of about 3,000 words, versus higher income children who start with a listening vocabulary of 20,000 words,” Ennis-Roughton said. “That is a huge, huge difference.”
If students don’t catch up by third grade, they’ll struggle to read on level the rest of their school career and they’ll be far more likely to drop out of school before graduation. That decision will affect them the rest of their lives, she said.
“It’s going to require all of us in Glynn to be advocates for these issues, for early education, for adequate child care and for making sure that our low-income families are supported,” Ennis-Roughton said.
All questions about the CAPS program can be directed to 833-442-2277. More information can be found at caps.decal.ga.gov.