SRI International, the National Center for Children in Poverty, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, and the Arkansas Office of Early Childhood are collaborating on a research project to advance equity in access to and delivery of stable, high-quality early care and education (ECE) for children in foster care who may have been historically underserved and adversely affected by poverty and inequality. The project’s main objectives are to:
- learn about the challenges to providing high-quality and stable ECE to Arkansas children in foster care,
- test and evaluate solutions to address these challenges, and
- set OEC and the Arkansas early learning workforce up for long-term success to implement evidence-based and effective strategies to support the development of young children in foster care.
High-quality ECE provides a developmentally supportive environment for children in foster care that addresses early adversities. The 2014 reauthorization of the federal Child Care and Development Block Grant Act recognizes the benefits of ECE for children involved with child welfare, but recent studies have shown low levels of ECE participation among children in foster care. Finding from this project will inform OEC’s decisions about potential policies and practices to support the Arkansas early learning workforce and improve access to high-quality ECE for children in foster care.
Our approach adapts the Learn, Innovate, and Improve model, which outlines an evidence-based approach to program improvement supported by practitioner–researcher collaboration. From 2021 to 2023, we are learning about:
- the supply of high-quality ECE across Arkansas,
- the quality of ECE settings that children in foster care attend (including teacher–child relationships and teacher turnover),
- the stability of participation of children in foster care in ECE, and
- the barriers and facilitators to children in foster care accessing high-quality ECE.
We are analyzing state administrative data to determine and illustrate supply and access. To examine multiple perspectives about access to high-quality ECE for children in foster care, we are conducting focus groups with foster parents, ECE providers and community organizations, as well as administering surveys to ECE directors in center- and home-based settings and to foster parents.
In 2024 and 2025, OEC will use the research findings to identify innovative pilot strategies (e.g., practices) to promote the identified facilitators and respond to barriers. The project team will use rapid learning cycles to assess the feasibility and improve on these pilot strategies by evaluating their implementation and measuring their short-term impacts. As part of these cycles, we will conduct interviews, focus groups and brief surveys with small numbers of participants (such as foster parents, child welfare case managers and ECE providers) to develop sustainable statewide strategies for Arkansas’s next Child Care and Development Fund state plan.
Importantly, the structured activities that occur throughout this collaborative research project will build the capacity of OEC and its staff to conduct their own rigorous, policy-relevant research and use findings to inform future practices and decisions.
Disclaimer: This project is funded by Grant Number 90YE0289 from the Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, the Administration for Children and Families, or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.