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Parental Choice in Relation to Certificates, Grants, or Contracts

Parental Choice

Parents should have the opportunity to choose from the full range of eligible child care settings:

  • Center-based care: Care in a nonresidential, commercial-type setting
  • Family child care: Care in the provider’s home
  • In-home care: Care in the child’s home

Child care certificates, also referred to as vouchers, are issued by Lead Agencies directly to parents to confirm eligibility for payment for child care. States may issue certificates of eligibility before parents select a provider, but certificates are often linked to a specific provider of the parent’s choice.[1]

Some Lead Agencies also provide services through grants or contracts with eligible providers to directly serve Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF)-eligible families. Grants and contracts may be used for increasing supply and quality of services for children in underserved areas and underserved populations (such as children with special needs or infants and toddlers), or for coordinating services with other programs (such as Head Start, prekindergarten, or afterschool care). Grants and contracts are also used to increase the supply of high-quality care.

The CCDBG Act emphasizes that Lead Agencies should increase the number and percentage of low-income children in high-quality settings. Lead Agencies have flexibility in determining the payment mechanisms for providing eligible low-income families with assistance. However, when grants and contracts are used, Lead Agencies must give parents the option of a child care voucher, even if a contracted slot is available.

Lead Agencies must ensure that, to the extent possible, parents have the opportunity to choose from the full range of eligible child care settings. This supports families’ needs and preferences for their children. Child care settings include center-based care, family child care, and in-home child care.

Regardless of which payment strategy is used, parents must have unlimited access to their children while they in the child care setting during operating hours. Lead Agencies must certify and describe the procedures that ensure unlimited parental access.


[1] 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.