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Four affordable child care programs set kids on path to school success

United Way for Southeastern Michigan
Knowing the options is the first step in helping families find affordable child care.

As inflation rises, families may be more sensitive than ever about the price tag of child care and preschool. It can add an exorbitant cost to the family budget — an average of $8,800 per year for a 4-year-old in Michigan.

United Way for Southeastern Michigan’s Connect4Care Kids helps Wayne County families understand child care financial assistance options, find affordable child care and preschool for their children, and connect with child care providers to complete enrollment.

Families have four primary programs to consider, depending on the age of the child, family income and other qualifiers: Early Head Start, Head Start, Great Start Readiness Program (GSRP) and the MDHHS child care subsidy. Families can use Connect4Care Kids to check their eligibility. Accessing these programs results in “an immediate and tangible cost savings to families,” notes Jeff Miles, senior director, economic mobility and social navigation for United Way for Southeastern Michigan.

Many families are eligible for some type of affordable child care program.

But Miles also cites the most important reason to get children signed up for early childhood programs: “Quality education gives the child the best start possible in life and the best chance to enter kindergarten on track, graduate high school and go on to a college or career.”

Since 90% of a child’s brain develops by age 5, early childhood care and learning are critical. Access to affordable, high-quality child care, especially for young children, has always been essential.  

Below is a short overview of the programs and their benefits, but a visit to Connect4Care Kids can help parents and caregivers better understand the options and make connections to these early childhood programs.

EARLY HEAD START

Early Head Start offers no-cost, home-based and center-based early education programs for children from birth through age 3. The program, which is federally funded, also offers services for pregnant women.

What kids learn

The program provides in-depth early childhood education and health and nutrition assistance. It focuses on the developmental and social-emotional areas of child development, from gross and fine motor skills to problem-solving and communication. In the home-based program, a trained teacher visits the home weekly to lead learning activities.

Eligibility

Other than age requirements, eligibility is based on household income and other qualifying factors, such as a child’s special needs, or if they’re in foster care, and even the veteran status of the parents. It can be complicated, but Connect4Care Kids makes it easy for families to determine their eligibility.

Teachers

Early Head Start professionals must have a Child Development Associate credential or a minimum of an associate’s degree in early childhood, child development or a related field.

Standards

The teacher-to-child ratio is low so that babies and toddlers get the attention needed. Early Head Start programs must participate in the state’s quality rating network, Early Childhood Standards of Quality for Prekindergarten, set out by the Michigan Board of Education. “They have to go through a pretty rigorous assessment process to make sure they are the highest quality,” says Miles.

Extras

Early Head Start can connect families with other needed resources like housing, food or employment supports. Health screenings for children are also provided. Families must find time to volunteer, with opportunities to assist in the classroom, participate in policy committees or plan special events.

HEAD START

Head Start is a full-day preschool learning program for children ages 3 to 5. Because the program is federally funded, it’s provided at no cost for qualifying families.

What kids learn

The Head Start curriculum focuses on preparing children for kindergarten and a successful education journey. Children in Head Start have direct, hands-on experiences with language, communication, math, creative arts, science, technology and social studies. Every child enrolled in Head Start has an individual learning plan with identified developmental goals.

Eligibility

Most families qualify for Head Start based on low income. Families may also qualify if their family includes a foster parent or a child with special needs, they are experiencing homelessness, or the family receives TANF or SSI Benefits.

Teachers

Head Start teachers must have a Child Development Associate credential or have a minimum of an associate degree in early childhood, child development or a related field. Many teachers also have a bachelor’s degree.

Standards

Head Start uses a research-based curriculum to prepare preschoolers for Kindergarten. Classrooms must meet the state’s quality rating requirements, as defined by the State of Michigan’s Early Childhood Standards of Quality for Prekindergarten.

Extras

Head Start children receive healthy snacks and meals; developmental screenings; and medical, mental health and dental support. Family goal-setting, social service referrals and other support services are available to the entire family. Parents are expected to volunteer in some capacity, with parent leadership and learning opportunities available.

Applying early is crucial for families to secure a spot in any of the described programs at a location that is convenient.

GREAT START READINESS PROGRAM

Great Start Readiness Program (GSRP) is a state-funded, free preschool program for 4-year-old children.

What kids learn

GSRP prepares children to succeed in kindergarten and beyond. GSRP’s research-based curriculum aligns with Michigan’s Early Childhood Standards for Quality for Prekindergarten. Children learn fine and gross motor skills, pre-writing and pre-math concepts, language and vocabulary, listening skills, music and problem solving.

Eligibility

Children must be 4 years old by Sept. 1 of the current school year. Family income is the main factor for determining eligibility in GSRP. Families that earn up to 250% of the federal poverty level qualify to participate – up to $69,375 for a family of four. Over-income families may be able to secure a spot as well, based on availability, and would be charged a reduced tuition based on a sliding fee scale, which may be as low as $10 per month for a full-day spot. Families who are eligible for Head Start will be referred to Head Start as well. There are other qualifying factors as well, such as a child’s special needs and other considerations. Connect4Care Kids helps parents figure out if they qualify.

Teachers

GSRP teachers have degrees within the field of early childhood education. 

Standards

All GSRP providers have to participate in the state's quality rating system. They have to meet both state and local school district requirements.

MDHHS SUBSIDIES

The MDHHS (Michigan Department of Health and Human Services) subsidy program provides help to families to lessen the burden of child care costs. Accessing the subsidies helps families reduce, or sometimes fully cover, child care expenses for children 12 years of age and younger. Support includes child care needed during out-of-school time, like care in the summer or before/after school.

Eligibility and cost

Family size, income level and other eligibility factors affect whether a family qualifies, if a family contribution is required, and, if so, what the amount would be. Connect4Care Kids can answer questions about the program, and get parents started with the process, which involves signing up through MiBridges for Child Development and Care, which is the official name of the subsidy program.

Qualifying factors

The program is geared toward parents with low-incomes, so they are able to go to work, job training or school, or attend counseling. The subsidy can be used for licensed center-based child care or license-exempt providers, such as friends, families or neighbors.

Standards

Families choose their own child care provider, but the individual or center must be registered to accept subsidies. The program is tied into the State of Michigan quality standards.

FAMILIES SHOULD APPLY EARLY FOR ALL PROGRAMS

There is a shortage of early childhood programs in Michigan, primarily due to staffing issues and the need to adhere to quality standards around low teacher-student ratios. In fact, 44% of state residents live in areas known as child care deserts, where capacity is too low to meet demand. Applying early is crucial for families to secure a spot in any of the described programs at a location that is convenient. Connect4Care Kids will not only get parents and caregivers started on the journey to understand their options, but follow them throughout the process.