Topic Overview: Consumer Education
The reauthorization of the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) of 2014 promotes family involvement in the development of their children in child care settings. This is done through consumer education. Leaving an infant or toddler in care can be an especially difficult experience for many new parents. Their involvement and positive engagement from the very beginning is exponentially important. It sets the stage for an expectation of engagement throughout their child’s educational experience.
As further explained in the preamble of the 2016 Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) Final Rule:
The Act expanded requirements for the content of consumer education available to parents receiving CCDF assistance, the public, and where applicable, child care providers. By adding providers, Congress recognized the positive role trusted caregivers can play in communicating and partnering with parents on a daily basis regarding their children’s development and available resources in the community. Effective consumer education strategies are important to inform parental choice of child care and to engage parents in the development of their children in child care settings—a new purpose of the CCDF added by the CCDBG Act of 2014. (81 FR 67439)
In addition, as shared in the Child Care Reauthorization and Opportunities for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and CCDF Information Memorandum (OCC, 2016):
CCDF Lead Agencies are required to provide consumer education information to parents, providers, and the general public on the availability of children care assistance; the quality of child care providers (if available); other programs for which families may quality; research and best practices in child development; and state/territory policies regarding social and emotional development. CCDF Lead Agencies are also required to provide information on developmental screening, including how parents and providers can access resources and services to obtain developmental screenings for children who may be at risk for developmental delays. All families, including families receiving TANF assistance, need easy access to reliable information on quality child care, child development, and public benefits, services, and supports that can help their family succeed. (p. 7)
Connecting With Your Audience
As you consider the requirements for information to be provided to parents and providers and plan for the expansion and strengthening of your state/territory’s consumer education plan, identify the characteristics of your audience. Keep in mind, the ages of their children, cultural and linguistic backgrounds, literacy levels, access to the identified message delivery system, and level of knowledge of topic.
Thinking about your audience in this way can move consumer education to another level, one of consumer engagement. The National Center for Parent Family and Child Engagement has brought this perspective to light, which is based on the principles of partnering with families by understanding where they come from and respecting them as their children’s advocates and first teachers. This approach focuses on family strengths and engages families in making choices that support their children’s well-being (State Capacity Building Center, 2016). The intended result of this approach to consumer engagement is families who understand quality care. They are then able to look for it and recognize it, which can help to create a demand for higher quality care.
This type of consumer engagement approach is also a way to strengthen relationships with early care and education providers from the very beginning. It gives them the tools to communicate with families about child care quality and the family’s powerful role in nurturing their child’s development. Guidance from the policy level that honors the strengths of families can provide support for caregivers to deliver information that is important to both caregivers and families in an intentional and meaningful way. When providers reinforce two-way communication in their consumer education efforts, they help build relationship-based care practices.
Creating Delivery Systems
The CCDF Final Rule requires consumer and provider education information delivery systems to be user-friendly and easily accessible to ensure transparency and support parents have the information they need to make informed decisions (45 C.F.R. § 98.33, 2016). In order to meet these requirements consumer education must include:
- A consumer education website with easily accessible provider-specific information including the results of monitoring and inspection reports, as well as the number of deaths, serious injuries, and instances of substantiated child abuse that occur in child care setting each year
- The website must also describe the process for licensing and monitoring child care providers, the process for conducting criminal background checks, and identify the offenses that prevent individuals form being child care providers
- States must also develop and disseminate materials to parents with young children to help them understand the importance of monitoring their child’s development during key milestones in those first years, including highlighting how parents and child care providers may access early screenings for developmental problems
- The reauthorized CCDBG Act requires the Office of Child Care to “fund a national website to disseminate consumer education information that allows search by zip code and referral to local child care providers, as well as a national hotline for reporting child abuse and neglect.” The national website and hotline are expected to be completed in November 2017
States are working to make more information available to parents using the Internet but they differ in the access points for locating that information. Some provide information using one or a combination of websites for the following: the state agency, the child care resource and referral agency (CCR&R), the subsidy agency or administrator, the TANF agency, and the quality rating and improvement system (QRIS). Topics covered include diversity of services (care in centers, homes, Head Start programs, prekindergarten programs, etc.); provider search by quality level, accreditation status, or other quality indicators; how to choose quality care; availability of subsidies; program licensing status; program QRIS participation; and family support services (Head Start; Women, Infants, and Children [WIC]; Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program [LIHEAP], TANF, and health insurance). See the resources section for related resources, which help explore relevant issues and provide examples of what States are doing in this area.
Developing Consumer Education System Strategies That Address the Needs of Infants and Toddlers
The previous sections provided consumer education system requirements for all children as well as considerations for addressing specific audiences. However, consumer education needs to be tailored to the specific needs of an age group. So it is important that the unique needs of infants and toddlers be addressed when planning the system. Child Care Aware’s Matching Your Infant’s or Toddler’s Style to the Right Child Care Setting (2009) brochure is a good example of an effective way to give information to parents (the brochure is available on Child Care Aware’s website at https://childcareaware.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/104e.pdf. It offers simple ways that parents can assess their infant or toddler’s needs and find a programs that meets those needs. The brochure provides a check list of health and safety issues to consider and a checklist to identify responsive care, a particularly critical factor when choosing infant and toddler care.
This chapter focuses on how CCDF Administrators can ensure the needs of families and caregivers of infants and toddlers are addressed in the whole consumer education system. When thinking about system design, remember to address who is to receive the information (i.e., effective ways to engage the audience), what the content of the information or message is, and how it can be reliably and efficiently delivered (i.e., effective communication coordination).
Ways to Engage Parents and Providers of Infants and Toddlers
The following are consumer education strategies for engaging parents of infants and toddlers.
- Engage parents in planning for infant and toddler child care. The CCDBG law and the CCDF Final Rule require providing them with information about infant and toddler development, the availability of child care financial assistance, the latest research and best practices in infant and toddler care, and the availability and quality of infant and toddler care in their area (45 C.F.R. § 98.33(b), 2016). This process works in both directions. Providing information to families will be more effective if it is built on an intentional effort to learn from them about their children and what they want for them
- Train frontline staff members who work directly with parents or providers about how critical quality care is for infants’ and toddlers’ development, how parents can find quality care, resources available to support parents in accessing quality child care, and other services for which families may qualify
- Engage parents in helping other parents to understand what quality infant and toddler child care looks like as well as how to access child care assistance and other programs that support families
- Support parents in advocating for quality infant and toddler care and access to it
- Help providers engage families and provide families with information about identifying quality care, locating resources, and supporting their infant or toddler's development
Message Content for Parents and Providers of Infants and Toddlers
- Provide information specific to the developmental needs of infant and toddler families and providers. Specific information on this topic is available in the Office of Child Care’s Information Memorandum (Log No. CCDF-ACF-IM-2016-01), published on January 19, 2016, at https://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/occ/ccdf_acf_im_2016_01.pdf. The CCDF Final Rule also requires that provider training include information on how to access resources to refer children for developmental screenings, and requires parents be given this information at in-take (45 C.F.R. § 98.33(c), 2016)
- Make information on the characteristics of high-quality infant and toddler care readily available and understandable to parents and care providers. Characteristics of high-quality infant and toddler care are as follows: relationship based; small numbers of children in care; individualized, inclusive, culturally responsive practices; continuity of care practices; inclusion of children with disabilities or other special needs
- Provide information on the availability of child care assistance and access to other family support programs, including WIC, TANF, Medicaid, Children’s Health Insurance Program, LIHEAP, etc., as required in the CCDBG Act and the CCDF Final Rule (45 C.F.R. § 98.33(b), 2016)
Communication Coordination for Parents and Providers of Infants and Toddlers
- Enhance consumer education by coordinating education efforts for both TANF and CCDF families
- Coordinate service delivery using single intake process, cross-enrollment, and alignment strategies that allow families to easily access all available benefits. (OCC, 2016)
- Coordinate communication delivery with partners such as CCR&R agencies, quality specialists, subsidy assistance agencies, and others to ensure consistency of message and information. This will also help increase the accessibility of the information to families and care providers
Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) Program, 81 Fed. Reg. 67438 (September 30, 2016) (codified at 45 C.F.R. Part 98). Retrieved January 4, 2016, from
Child Care Aware. (2009).Matching your infant’s or toddler’s style to the right child care setting.Retrieved on December 9, 2016, from
Office of Child Care, Administration for Children and Families, U.S Department of Health and Human Services. (2016, February). Child care reauthorization and opportunities for TANF and CCDF. Retrieved December 7, 2016, from
State Capacity Building Center (2016). Consumer education, extending reach, and meeting requirements. [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved December 16, 2016 from
Infant and Toddler Care Messaging
It is important to convey to families and providers accurate and informative messages about the critical nature of the infant and toddler years for healthy development, including infants and toddlers’ specific child care needs. Advocacy & Communication Solutions, LLC, and Zero to Three created the Infant and Toddler Messaging Guide (2015a) to provide support for crafting thoughtful and effective messaging. The first section of this guide states that messages about infant and toddler care are usually of two types:
- Those that share information about outcomes of infant and toddler investments; and
- Those that are about programs or services.
The consumer education systems designed by states, territories, and tribes serve multiple purposes and usually include aspects of both types of messages. States, territories, and tribes work to build on knowledge possessed by families, child care providers, and other stakeholders of the critical need for high-quality infant and toddler care and the return on investment that it delivers. At the same time, they work to expand existing knowledge of families, child care providers, partners, and other stakeholders about the programs and services that support relationship-based, individualized, culturally responsive, and inclusive care for all infants and toddlers.
Messages about outcomes for infant and toddler care often address four areas that impact children and society: healthy development, strong families, long-term success, and return on investment (Advocacy & Communication Solutions, & Zero to Three, 2015a). This messaging has greater success when it is clear, justifiable, concise, and takes context into consideration (Advocacy & Communication Solutions, & Zero to Three, 2015a). The Infant and Toddler Messaging Guide provides examples of outcome messages, identifies specific characteristics that strengthen these messages, and makes recommendations for improvement. The following are some of the characteristics that lead to success:
- Messages use clear, uncomplicated, and understandable language. For example, there is no academic language or jargon such as “children’s linguistic development;” instead this phrase would be “your baby is learning to say and understand new words every day.”
- Messages incorporate outcome data, evidence, and research to strengthen the impact. For example, the message could emphasize that infants and toddlers who are consistently exposed to two languages before the age of 3 years perform better on reading, phonological awareness, and competency in both languages (Kovelman, Baker, & Pettito, 2008).
- Messages and analogies that are respectful of cultural context. For example, “Your child’s first three years are a window of opportunity for you to make sure he has the strongest possible foundation for success” (Advocacy & Communication Solutions, & Zero to Three, 2015a, p. 8).
- They are relatable, use concrete examples, and allow the audience to consider how the message applies to themselves. For example, “Relationships are the building blocks of healthy development. If, as very young children, we have positive, predictable relationships with our parents or other caregivers, we will feel safe from harm and secure that our basic needs will be met. Therefore, our energy can be spent on exploring the world around us…” (Advocacy & Communication Solutions, & Zero to Three, 2015a, p. 5);
- Messages cite believable, tangible, and reliable outcomes. For example, “The quality of child care has a direct effect on a child’s ability to learn, to build healthy relationships, and to become the best he can be” (Advocacy & Communication Solutions, & Zero to Three, 2015a, p. 8).
- They connect to the audience’s belief system. For example, “Strong parents and families benefit children” (Advocacy & Communication Solutions, & Zero to Three, 2015a, p. 6).
Messages about programs and services for infant and toddler care have a primary purpose of offering information and increasing public awareness. These messages often address these areas: risk factors, service provision, family engagement and parent-child interaction (Advocacy & Communication Solutions, & Zero to Three, 2015a). Their effectiveness is increased when it is clear why these programs and services matter for infants and toddlers and their families and why the broader audience should care (Advocacy & Communication Solutions, & Zero to Three, 2015a). Similar to outcome messages, the Infant and Toddler Messaging Guide provides examples of each type of message. It identifies strong characteristics within these messages and instances where the messages could be improved. Successful program and service messages have the following characteristics:
- Define the challenge or need the program or service is addressing.
- Provide a hopeful solution and focus on one issue without providing too much detail.
- Use data or research to demonstrate the need for programs or services.
- Emphasize the benefit of the solution in short- and long-term outcomes.
The second section of the Infant and Toddler Messaging Guide offers six rules that provide guidance for developing messages about outcomes and programs and services that resonate with a wider audience:
- Present the issue, problem and solution,
- Highlight outcomes for children and the broader effect on society,
- Have data to back up claims and help tell the story,
- Embed a value or belief,
- Use concrete examples, and
- Paint a picture that is believable (Advocacy & Communication Solutions, & Zero to Three, 2015a, p. 16).
Additional information regarding when to use and what to include in specific types of outcome and program and service messages is available in the Advocacy & Communication Solutions and Zero to Three’s PowerPoint presentation on infant and toddler messaging (Advocacy & Communication Solutions, & Zero to Three, 2015b, p. 7 and p. 9). This presentation is available on the Alliance for Early Success website at http://earlysuccess.org/resources/infant-and-toddler-messaging-guide-written-advocacy-communication-solutions-llc-zero-three.
Advocacy & Communication Solutions, LLC, & Zero to Three. (2015a). Infant and toddler messaging guide. Retrieved from https://www.zerotothree.org/resources/479-infant-and-toddler-messaging-guide
Advocacy & Communication Solutions, LLC, & Zero to Three. (2015b). The Infant and toddler messaging guide [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from http://earlysuccess.org/resources/infant-and-toddler-messaging-guide-written-advocacy-communication-solutions-llc-zero-three
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Howes, C., & Hamilton, C. E. (1993). The changing experience of child care: Changes in teachers and in teacher-child relationships and children’s social competency with peers. Early Childhood Research Quarterly. 8(1), 15–32.
Kovelman, L., Baker, S. A., & Petitto, L. A. (2008). Bilingual and monolingual brains compared: A functional magnetic resonance imaging investigation of syntactic processing and a possible “neural signature” of bilingualism. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 20(1), 153–169. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2643466/