Creating a family-friendly child care assistance application

Last Reviewed Date
September 23, 2023

The Office of Child Care (OCC) is committed to reducing the burden on families applying for Child Care Development and Fund (CCDF) child care assistance. This guide can help Lead Agencies revise the content and format of your applications to make them simpler for families. Learn more about why we created this guide for Lead Agencies and how to use it.

What's included in the guide?

This guide provides information on how Lead Agencies can revise the content and format of your applications to make them simpler for families. It is organized into three sections:

1. Defining, collecting, and verifying eligibility information

The pages in this section include: what information to capture, methods of verifying that information, how to define key terms in ways that reduce burden, and example screens.

2. Designing a successful online application

Design best practices to create an online application that is easy to use for families.

3. Making changes while maintaining program integrity

How to implement new family friendly practices while continuing to promote the integrity of the program.

A full model child care assistance application that combines all of these elements in practice can be found here.

Why we created this guide for Lead Agencies and how to use it

Sources of burden in the application process

The process of applying for Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) child care assistance should not be complicated, confusing, invasive, or frustrating for families, but all too often it is. Relatively simple changes to the application questions and definitions, layout, and required documents can make a big difference in reducing the “time tax” to apply for assistance. The Office of Child Care (OCC) is committed to making accessing child care subsidies easier for families.

OCC has prepared this guide for CCDF Lead Agencies to provide practical, actionable changes you can adopt now, drawing from best practices in benefits application design and process – all already allowed under federal law and in use today. You will also find an end-to-end model child care assistance application that shows how all of these best practices can fit together. All recommendations in this guide and the sample application are consistent with federal CCDF rules and regulations.

Administrative burdens can worsen inequity. They fall disproportionately on people who most need critical services. There are many potential sources of burden when completing a child care assistance application, including:

  • Time spent completing an application
  • Time spent collecting and submitting required documents
  • Confusing web interfaces
  • In-person interviews
  • Follow-ups to correct errors or supply additional information

Family-friendly policies not only benefit families but can reduce burden on the Lead Agency and promote the integrity of the program. In general, streamlined eligibility processes are less difficult to administer. Eliminating complex rules and eligibility practices reduces administrative workload burden.

Who is this guide for?

  • CCDF state and territorial agency administrators and their staff (Lead Agencies)
  • Other state and local government officials who are involved in setting local eligibility requirements and supporting the CCDF enrollment process
  • Vendors and contractors working with CCDF Lead Agencies to administer their child care assistance program

This guide is not intended to be used directly by families.

Additional process improvement areas

There are some important parts of the application process that are not addressed in this guide. These include, but are not limited to:

  • how long it takes for the application to be processed
  • the support available to applicants to help them fill out the application
  • how eligibility workers follow up with applicants to address missing or incorrect information
  • the renewals/redeterminations process

Lead Agencies should consider additional opportunities to improve these elements and the overall application experience.

801 Reporting: As a best practice for creating a family-friendly application, it is better to ask fewer questions and only collect required information. Given that Lead Agencies are only required to submit 801 reporting for children enrolled in child care assistance (not for those that apply but do not receive assistance), Lead Agencies may consider a separate process for collecting information for 801 reporting that is outside of the application process. However, given that many Lead Agencies do choose to combine data collection for 801 reporting with the child care assistance application, the (Full Model Application) included in this resource includes optional screens for 801 reporting compliance.

Considerations for multi-program applications

This guide only covers the standalone child care assistance application process. Multi-program applications (where families can submit information once to apply to multiple benefits programs) can reduce the burden on families even further, and can also help families identify programs they are eligible for but not aware of. Furthermore, multi-program applications can reduce the processing burden on Lead Agencies because eligibility workers can review information only once rather than once per program. For states incorporating child care assistance into multi-program applications, this guide can be used as an input to ensure it meets the federal CCDF requirements.

Additionally, many of the considerations on how to efficiently capture information and ease document submission as well as design best practices, are consistent across programs. However, there are some additional considerations for designing multi-program applications, such as how to achieve shared definitions of key eligibility terms that vary across programs, screen for multiple needs, or comply with varying documentation rules.

Future projects at the Administration for Children and Families will consider how to further support Lead Agencies in developing multi-program applications.