Activities to Improve the Quality of Child Care Services

licensing, professional development, quality improvement

Quality improvement strategies are linked to the Child Care Development Block Grant (CCDBG) Act and Child Care Development Fund (CCDF) final rule implementation effective dates outlined in previous parts of this resource. The Recruit and Retain a Qualified and Effective Child Care Workforce section discussed pathways to an effective child care workforce through professional development systems and workforce initiatives. In addition to those approaches, the Office of Child Care (OCC) is dedicated to creating pathways to excellence for child care programs through quality activities. A core element of the CCDF is improving the quality of child care services and ensuring that parents have access to high-quality child care options.

The law says that states must develop strategies for increasing supply and quality of services for

  • children in underserved areas,
  • infants and toddlers,
  • children with disabilities, and
  • children in nontraditional-hour care.

In addition, Congress expanded provisions in the law designed to ensure that children in families with lower-incomes whose care is paid for with CCDF subsidies have equal access to care that is comparable to services provided to children who are not receiving assistance. [1]

Health and Safety and Continuous Quality Improvement information
Additional Information
States must consider the connection between subsidy and quality, such as what level of subsidy is needed to adequately support the costs to providers of offering high-quality services. CCDF funding helps pay for more than 1.4 million children to participate in child care every month. Therefore, changes in the law that encourage more timely, more stable, and higher payments will have a positive impact on the larger child care market for all families. [2]

Lead Agencies are required to provide quality improvement activities directly or through contracts with local child care resource and referral (CCR&R) agencies or other appropriate organizations. Activities should be aligned with a statewide needs assessment of the need to carry out such services and care. Lead Agencies have flexibility in designing an assessment of their quality activities that best meets their needs, including how often they do the assessment. You can consult with your regional office to identify entities that may have conducted assessments. Examples of sources of assessments include the following:

  • State Advisory Council (SAC) survey or assessment
  • CCR&R needs assessment
  • Child care desert reports
  • Local (public or private) needs assessments (for example, private foundation in a community)

The law designated set-asides, or percentages of funding that must be set aside for use on specific topics such as quality improvement and infant and toddler care. The increase in the minimum quality set-aside began in FY 2016. The infant and toddler quality set-aside began in FY 2017. The following table describes the phase-in of these set-asides.

Type of Set-Aside

FFY 2016

FFY 2017

FFY 2018

FFY 2019

FFY 2020
(& ongoing)

Quality set-aside






Infant and toddler set-aside





Total quality set-aside






Source: CCDBG Act of 2014 658G(a)(2).

For additional information on the allocation of quality funds, refer to Ensure Grantee Program Integrity and Accountability .

Starting with the FY 2012–2013 CCDF Plans, CCDF Administrators were asked to conduct a self-assessment of the status of quality efforts in their programs and to identify goals for progress. Previously, Lead Agencies reported progress on the annual Quality Performance Report (ACF-118, appendix 1).

The final rule replaced the Quality Performance Report with the Quality Progress Report (ACF 218), which states must submit on an annual basis in December (beginning with FY2017 data). States are also required to report the measures used to evaluate progress in improving the quality of child care programs and services.


[1] Office of Child Care. (2016). Child Care and Development Fund final rule frequently asked questions. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families.

[2] CCDF regulations define state as follows: “any of the states, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands of the United States, Guam, American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands, and includes tribes unless otherwise specified” [Child Care and Development Fund, 45 C.F.R. § 98.2 (2016)]. For ease of reading, the term state is used inclusively throughout this resource unless otherwise specified.