Mother holding child at Educare Seattle

Building Inclusive State Child Care Systems

Investments in quality early childhood education services can be one of the most cost-effective strategies for schools.

The U.S. Departments of Education (ED) and Health and Human Services (HHS) declared a “renewed commitment and urgency” in supporting young children with disabilities and developmental delays when updating their policy statement on early childhood inclusion at the end of 2023. They noted that many key early childhood leaders “used the 2015 policy statement to drive changes in policies and practices to support the inclusion of young children with disabilities across multiple levels of the early childhood system.” The updated Child Care Development Fund (CCDF) rules reflect the urgent need to increase the supply and quality of inclusive child care and embed strategies to reach this goal.

Despite the positive change noted in the updated policy statement, the latest report using CCDF administrative data suggests that the percent of children receiving CCDF reported to have a disability was still low compared to several data points. So, while children with disabilities and delays are supposed to be prioritized, there is still work to be done to build more inclusive state child care systems.

“Building Inclusive State Child Care Systems” (April 2024) is a tool to continue driving this type of change. It is intended to support child care administrators, IDEA Part C and Part B 619 Coordinators, early childhood advocates, and other relevant groups by providing an overview of the requirements for inclusion of children with developmental delays and disabilities in child care programs and concrete ideas for taking action to make inclusion a reality. It can also be used by states who are eligible to apply for the next round of the Preschool Development Grants Birth through Five (PDG-5) program.

Key Findings/Components

Creating high quality inclusive child care settings requires intentional collaboration, alignment of policies and practices, a holistic approach, and the implementation of multiple strategies. States can maximize opportunities in the new requirements to promote good inclusion by:

  • Leveraging existing infrastructure
  • Providing grants and contracts to support providers and individualized supports
  • Establishing differential payments or tiered reimbursements for individual children
  • Providing training and support to child care providers
  • Collecting and report data on children with disabilities served in child care
  • Ensuring children receive developmental screening and referrals

“Building Inclusive State Child Care Systems” (April 2024) provides a brief overview of inclusion, requirements for inclusion in child care programs specifically, examples of state-level policies and practices that may improve the quality and supply of inclusive child care environments, and ideas for taking action to further full inclusion in child care.

Need more support? Start Early Consulting invites leaders to leverage our consultants as strategic advisors to support more equitable early childhood systems. Please reach out to us at to learn more.

“Building Inclusive State Child Care Systems” was originally published in September 2017. If you are interested in viewing the original resource, please email us at the address above.

Policy Team & Collaborators

Take Action

  • Learn more: Begin by increasing your familiarity with issues related to inclusion and child care. The U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services’ joint policy statement on inclusion in early childhood programs contains resources available to deepen your understanding of the available supports for children with disabilities, inclusive early care and education environments, child care subsidy systems, and more.
  • Take stock: Evaluate the current status of inclusion in your state’s early childhood system and the resources available to you. The Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center recently published a guide that can assist with a state system scan.
  • Build or strengthen relationships: Working with colleagues across systems can be very challenging. Establishing and maintaining positive and productive working relationships requires time, consistent engagement, and careful balancing of competing priorities and divergent perspectives. As you start or continue conversations with your partners about how to work together to incorporate the policy strategies discussed in this resource in your state, anticipate disagreement but remember to always look for common ground. Recognize that you will need to dedicate time and energy to building trust and learning about unfamiliar systems in order to be successful.
  • Employ your knowledge of statute and policy and relationship-building to use CCDF to improve high-quality inclusive child care and early education opportunities for children ages birth to five with or at risk for delays and disabilities.