Expanding Access to Affordable Child Care through Federal Policy Change

Expanding Access to Affordable Child Care through Federal Policy Change

Child care is an essential tool to strengthen families and prevent child maltreatment. However, many Colorado families face barriers to accessing affordable, high quality child care. This month, the US Health and Human Services Department (HHS) is considering proposed rule changes to expand access to child care by removing common financial and administrative barriers.

These proposed changes, along with the work of Colorado child care advocates, have the potential to expand access to child care, strengthening families and preventing child maltreatment.

Access to Quality, Affordable Child Care Promotes Protective Factors and Prevents Child Maltreatment

Promoting concrete support in times of need, which is 1 of 5 research-informed protective factors, strengthens families and prevents child maltreatment.¹ Chronic stress, resulting in toxic stress, can impact a parent’s ability to effectively respond to their child’s needs. Increasing access to quality, affordable child care, a concrete support in times of need, minimizes stress and reduces instances of child abuse and neglect. 

When parents lack access to quality child care, this can serve as a barrier to participate in the workforce, receive mental health and substance use services, and engage in other meaningful activities that reduce stress and enhance health, well-being, and economic security. Research shows that families receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) experience a 20% increase in risk of supervisory neglect for each additional child care concern reported.²

In contrast, each additional month a low-income mother receives a child care subsidy results in a 16% decrease in the odds of a child neglect report and a 14% decrease in the odds of a physical abuse report in the following year.³

“Research shows that difficulty finding child care is a stronger predictor of maternal neglect than almost any other factor, including mental health, severity of drug use, history of abuse as a child, and use of public assistance.”

– Jade Woodard, Executive Director of Illuminate Colorado

Expanding Access to Child Care through Federal Policy Change

This year, the Biden-Harris Administration is directing public agencies to engage in rulemaking processes to expand access to affordable child care. In a July press conference, Vice President Kamala Harris made remarks discussing how the over 900,000 US families receiving child care vouchers through the Child Care and Development Block Grant Program (CCDBG), a federal program that funds state subsidized child care, still face barriers to accessing quality, affordable child care.

In Colorado, 32% of children ages 0-6 are eligible for subsidized child care under the CCDBG, but families receiving vouchers still pay between $1 and $584 in monthly out-of-pocket co-pays.⁴

In response to the President’s directive, the US Health and Human Services Department has proposed new rules.⁵ Among other changes, the proposed rules would:

        • Cap child care copayments at 7% of a family’s income for families receiving child care vouchers under CCDBG
        • Allow agencies to waive copayments for additional populations – including families with an income that is less than 150% of the federal poverty level (FPL) and families with a child with a disability
        • Exempt Tribal Lead Agencies from the requirement to establish sliding scale pay structures that require all families to pay copayments
        • Require agencies to implement new policies and practices that lessen the administrative burden placed on families when navigating the application process to receive child care vouchers
        • Increase sustainability of CCDBG program participation for child care providers by increasing the timeliness of provider payments and paying child care providers by enrollment, rather than attendance

A full list and explanation of proposed rule changes can be accessed here.

Have you received child care vouchers through the Colorado Child Care Assistance Program or subsidized child care in another state?

Submit an official comment here (click green “Submit a Formal Comment” button) to share how the proposed rules would impact you and your family!

Advocacy in Colorado to Increase Access to Child Care

Illuminate is grateful to our advocacy partners who lead the charge in expanding access to child care in Colorado. We appreciate Colorado Children’s Campaign, Clayton Early Learning, Early Connections Learning Centers, Healthier Colorado, Early Childhood Councils across the state, and others who are leading this work.

We at Illuminate join our partners in expanding access to child care through Illuminating Child Care, a program that provides on-site child care to caregivers while they receive support for complex issue impacting their family, like mental health concerns, substance use disorders, or employment challenges. Through RVs that have been retrofitted into safe and enriching infant and toddler classrooms, our Early Childhood Teachers offer child care at no cost to caregivers accessing services at 15 behavioral health and family support facilities across 3 regions of Colorado.

  1. Center for the Study of Social Policy. (n.d.) About Strengthening Families and the protective factors framework. Retrieved From: https://cssp.org/our-work/projects/protective-factors-framework/
  2. Yang, M.-Y., & Maguire-Jack, K. (2016). Predictors of basic needs and supervisory neglect: Evidence from the Illinois Families Study. Children & Youth Services Review, 67, 20-26. Retrieved From: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.childyouth.2016.05.017
  3. Yang, M. Y., Maguire‐Jack, K., Showalter, K., Kim, Y. K., & Slack, K. S. (2019). Child care subsidy and child maltreatment. Child & Family Social Work, 24(4), 547-554. Retrieved From: https://doi.org/10.1111/cfs.12635
  4. First Five Years Fund. (2023). Child Care & Development Block Grant in Colorado. Retrieved From: https://www.ffyf.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/05/2023_CCDBG-Fact-Sheet_CO.pdf
  5. Improving Child Care Access, Affordability, and Stability in the Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF), 88 FR 45022 (proposed July 13, 2023). Retrieved From: https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2023/07/13/2023-14290/improving-child-care-access-affordability-and-stability-in-the-child-care-and-development-fund-ccdf

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Playing is Learning: The Role of an Early Childhood Teacher with Illuminating Child Care 

Playing is Learning: The Role of an Early Childhood Teacher with Illuminating Child Care 

Access to child care is critical for all parents and caregivers in order for children, families, and communities to thrive. That’s why Illuminating Child Care, a program at Illuminate Colorado, provides free high-quality child care to young children while caregivers get the support they need to strengthen their families. 

Before a parent can begin to address any complex issue impacting their family, like mental health concerns, substance use disorders, or employment challenges, they are too often faced, first, with struggling to find child care.

With Illuminating Child Care, parents and caregivers can focus on addressing any complex issue impacting their family because they know their children are safe and receiving high-quality care.

Recently, we had the chance to speak with Jordan Davis about what a day in the life as an Early Childhood Teacher with Illuminating Child Care looks like. Jordan works on the on-site child care classroom Honey, which visits locations across the Denver Metro area each week where parents receive treatment and support. 

Jordan mainly works with toddlers, helping them to develop fine and gross motor skills, alongside a heavy focus on language. Days on Honey are filled with reading books, playing pretend, and lots of coloring. 

Jordan Davis

Early Childhood Teacher

All aspects of play are developmentally critical for toddlers. Jordan explained how reading together helps kids learn and pronounce new words; playing pretend with grocery store toys introduces little ones to different food groups, colors, numbers, and healthy choices; and coloring helps to grow their fine motor skills. 

Through working and playing with the kids, Jordan and the other teachers are able to identify what milestones each child has met or is working towards. Thanks to the high teacher-to-child ratio, it’s easy for teachers to meet each child where they are and address their specific needs. While working with multiple children, the teachers create different opportunities for each child, ensuring an equal level of engagement and growth across the group.

Jordan also explained that Illuminating Child Care is well equipped to meet the needs of children facing developmental challenges. Each teacher is skilled at identifying a child’s needs and how to assist in their development. 

Another aspect of providing quality child care is building genuine, trusting relationships with parents. Illuminating Child Care teachers prioritize what each parent wants for their child, including how to best align with the schedules kids are on at home, in order to create a consistent and safe environment for learning. 

Having started as an Early Childhood Teacher in January of 2023, Jordan has loved watching each child develop and progress.

Her favorite part of working on the Illuminating Child Care team is seeing how fast the kids grow. Over time, Jordan has learned to develop attachments with the toddlers, creating a consistently safe space where they can feel comfortable to start learning by playing. 

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New Kid on the Block: Caramel Expands Illuminating Child Care to Pueblo and Fremont Counties

New Kid on the Block: Caramel Expands Illuminating Child Care to Pueblo and Fremont Counties

Caramel, Illuminating Child Care’s newest member of the fleet, was introduced to the Pueblo community at an open house on April 14th. Members of the community and local media toured the new classroom, learned more about the program and saw how the on-site classroom operates. Another open house is scheduled in Fremont County.

Media Coverage of the Pueblo Open House

Before a parent can begin to address any complex issue impacting their family, like mental health concerns, substance use disorders, or employment challenges, they are too often faced, first, with struggling to find child care.

That’s why Illuminate Colorado has partnered with Children First/Pueblo Early Childhood Council to expand the Illuminating Child Care program. Caramel, the newest classroom in the Illuminating Child Care fleet, is increasing access to child care for parents and caregivers navigating complex life situations in Pueblo and Fremont counties.

“We can support parents in… really being able to be present and well for their kiddos, then we can support children in building all of those brain connections that we know happens in early childhood. So that’s how this is really contributing to school readiness and long-term educational success for kiddos,” Jade Woodard, Executive Director of Illuminate Colorado, told Fox 21 News.

“As a single mother, and as a single mother in recovery, the greatest barrier to me being able to complete those tasks that I need to complete and stay on track would be child care.”

Karie, one of several parents who’ve depended on Illuminating Child Care

According to Angie Shehorn, Director of Children First/Pueblo Early Childhood Council, Caramel will officially begin services in late April or early May. “We have a schedule worked out… where we are out at facilities every single day, Monday through Friday,” she told The Pueblo Chieftain.

Getting this child care classroom ready to serve young children means we need your help!

Illuminate is hosting an online baby shower to help stock Caramel with all the items child care teachers need to help young children learn and grow while providing drop-in care on-site where parents are getting the support they need to strengthen their families.

The registry for Caremel is set up through Lakeshore Learning Materials.

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Meeting Parents Where They Are – Bringing Child Care with Us

Meeting Parents Where They Are – Bringing Child Care with Us

Before any parent goes back to work, gets into treatment or tries to tackle any one of life’s challenges that may take them away from their child, they need to find child care. It’s a problem all parents can relate to, but solutions depend entirely on what access to child care looks like in your community.

Options for all families in Colorado will look very different by the fall of 2023 when the new Colorado Department of Early Childhood Education rolls out the voluntary universal preschool program. Two years from now, families with 4-year-olds will have access to 10 hours of childcare per week through community-based centers, a program in a family’s home, a local Head Start program or a school-based provider. Senator Janet Buckner, one of the sponsors of a bill to implement the program shared with CPR News that “[t]he legislation talks about 10 hours but for low income students, they’re going to get additional hours.”

Reports also indicated that the voluntary universal preschool program is estimated to save families about $4,300 a year. That’s great news for all families, but the child care crisis isn’t just impacting families, it’s impacting everyone and every part of society. In particular, it’s impacting local behavioral health providers and community-based nonprofits’ ability to address some of Colorado’s most complex issues like substance misuse and poverty. Those agencies are getting creative when it comes to increasing access to child care for their clients.

Mile High Behavioral Healthcare provides a continuum of behavioral healthcare —offering affordable care and housing services with focused programs to help adults and young people address life challenges – offering hope for individuals on a journey of recovery—recovery from trauma, substance use and mental health challenges and homelessness. “We are really trying to expand and do things from a family lens, compared to just the identified patient,” said Jessica Courtney, chief clinical officer for Mile High Behavioral Healthcare. 

Listen to Raven’s Miracle Story

HONEY Serves the Denver Metro Area

The organization is one of several organizations utilizing Honey, the Illuminating Child Care on-site child care classroom visiting locations in the Denver Metro Area, to increase access to child care for their clients. Courtney estimates that 95% of the women in the Miracles program engaged in treatment related to substance misuse and mental health challenges have children. The program offers traditional and enhanced outpatient programming to meet the individual needs of the women. Classes include life skills, job readiness, parenting, healthy relationships, cooking, yoga, and quilting to support sobriety and recovery.

“Our belief is that the opposite of addiction is connection. Sobriety is fine, but that’s not living. Most of our clients don’t know how to live, they didn’t grow up with trusted adults in their lives. Our clients average an ACEs score of more than seven.” The ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) score is a guideline used to measure childhood trauma including physical abuse, verbal abuse, sexual abuse, physical neglect, and emotional neglect developed in the CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences Study. This pivotal study also highlighted the negative–and often lasting–effects childhood trauma can have on health, well-being and opportunity which Miracles’ moms are working to overcome.

The Miracles program lasts all day, every day. And, while the program loves babies, parenting while trying to engage in treatment and recovery comes with some unique challenges. “Babies need time to be away from the high stimulation that is going on with the women talking, doing group or eating together. If a baby is fussy or difficult, it really disrupts the group, and, if a baby is calm and cute, it also disrupts the group,” explained Courtney. “At the same time, we know the importance of a mom being with her kid and learning skills to regulate herself while her baby is dysregulated, all of that is super important. Illuminating Child Care seemed like a natural fit. Having something on site, that they can easily access and run out [of the building] if something major happens, is a really comforting thing.”

The partnership between Mile High Behavioral Healthcare is a great example of multi-generational child maltreatment prevention. “It is nice to have access to [the Illuminating Child Care] team looking out for missed developmental milestones. They have access to different resources than we do and even bring a pediatrician every now and then. When we’re decreasing maternal stress and increasing the maternal community, then we are also decreasing a baby’s future ACEs scores. We’re catching it more upstream,” shared Courtney.

CrossPurpose is also partnering with Illuminate Colorado to increase access to child care for their clientele working to gain sustainable careers and get out of poverty for good. The Denver nonprofit is working to abolish relational, economic, and spiritual poverty through career and community development. Their core program offers six months of intensive classes, for four hours a day, focused on personal and professional development. 

Meet Mariah – A CrossPurpose Graduate

In addition to skills building and personal development for careers in the trades, construction, administration, customer services and medical fields, CrossPurpose also brings together allies, or community volunteers, and alumni to network and build community. “Once a week, we utilize Honey when we have everyone come together – doctors, business owners, retired professionals – a dynamic mix of people from our community, with current students, to network, have a meal, talk about what is going well and what is not going well and offering a couple hours of alleviated stress while our students are in the program,” said Sianna Gomez, director of a new Fellowship Cohort for Alumni at CrossPurpose. 

“Honey takes child care out of the equation for that weekly dinner. One of the other things we are looking to tap into is Illuminate’s navigation services to help our parents find more services, including quality-rated child care services,” said Gomez. “Access to child care is not easy right now. If a parent has two to three children and is a single mom – and we get that all the time – it’s common to take an hour and a half to drop off each kiddo at three different locations since more access to child care isn’t available closer to her, and then we expect her to potentially get a job or to come to training when she doesn’t even have a car to get to those places either. Child care is a barrier to getting a full-time job, and in the grand scheme of things it’s a barrier to getting out of poverty. We have to find creative solutions to help parents find child care close to their job, or they run the risk of losing their job in the future.” 

While many local behavioral health providers and community-based nonprofits have seen people less willing to come back to their brick and mortar locations for services, child care remains among the most important barriers to remove to bring them back. “It’s a super important partnership to have, even if it isn’t totally utilized, everyone knows when Honey comes. Our folks are so distrusting of everybody because people have told them they are terrible for so long. By showing them that another person can be safe, another agency has their best interest in mind, we are growing their community, decreasing barriers to coming to treatment,” said Courtney. “So often facilities focus on the adults, they get a little scared of the children. [Illuminating Child Care] relieves some stress that the provider doesn’t have to do it all, there is a partner that is specializing in this, you can be that connecting person to help make it safe for them to trust somebody else. Our clients are the kids that got missed. Partnering together we’re teaching them that there are systems in place to help them and their children succeed.”

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Illuminating Child Care is Expanding to the San Luis Valley

Illuminating Child Care is Expanding to the San Luis Valley

Over the course of the next couple of months, the Early Childhood Council of the San Luis Valley is taking Acorn – Illuminate’s newest renovated RV providing on-site child care – on a tour of the San Luis Valley, stopping at locations that are helping to strengthen families–like recovery and treatment centers–to showcase this exciting new service that is by the people of the Valley, for the people of the Valley.

“The Early Childhood Council of the San Luis Valley envisions a community where all members prioritize and invest in our children to build a thriving society. This means supporting families and meeting them where they are. We strive to support parents’ health & wellbeing so they can in turn support optimal development of their children. What many of our families with high needs require is timely and coordinated services and this on-site child care classroom does just that! In partnership with Illuminate Colorado and our local service providers, we can make a difference in our community. We are excited to be able to pilot this greatly needed service in the San Luis Valley,” said Sherri Valdez, executive director of the Early Childhood Council San Luis Valley.

The early years of life – from belly to age eight – are very important for learning and development. That’s because during the first few years, children’s brains are developing fast. In fact, more than one million new brain connections form every second! Because of this, the experiences and relationships that young children have in the early years can impact them for life.

When families struggling to manage life’s challenges and the demands of raising children are also faced with the challenge of finding high quality child care, it can stand in the way of strengthening families. In fact, studies have shown difficulty finding child care is a stronger predictor of maternal neglect than almost any other factor, including mental health, severity of drug use, history of abuse as a child & use of public assistance.(1) This is why Illuminating Child Care is such an innovative and essential part of solving the child care crisis in Colorado.

Beginning with Honey last year servicing the Denver Metro area, Illuminate unveiled the first innovative on-site child care classroom.  “As a single mother, and as a single mother in recovery, the greatest barrier to me being able to complete those tasks that I need to complete and stay on track would be child care,” said Karie, one of several parents who depended on Illuminating Child Care when Honey first hit the road. “Honey is allowing me, as a mother, to stay on top of those other parts of my life so well.” A year later, we’re expanding to the San Luis Valley thanks in large part to the leadership of the Early Childhood Council of the San Luis Valley.

The cornerstone of Illuminating Child Care is its renovated RVs, which serve as on-site child care classrooms providing drop-in care for young children. Acorn was created with its fun-loving squirrels and custom features designed with healthy child development in mind.

Children learn through play, and creating a classroom that offers hands-on manipulation, role-play and practice, free choice, cooperation, and decision-making experiences serve just this purpose. Age and developmental appropriate items, such as climbing stairs, the book nook, and the toddler potty and sink, were designed around a young child’s unique needs.

Parents and caregivers will be able to drop off their young children at partner locations and feel confident that the teachers on Acorn will help their little ones learn and grow while they are getting the support they need to strengthen their families.

“We are so excited about this next phase of Illuminating Child Care and the partnership with the San Luis Valley. It takes all of us to create brighter childhoods for all children in Colorado and, together, we can take some of the weight off of our parents’ shoulders as they are working to tackle some really hard challenges,” said Patsy Bruce, child care manager at Illuminate Colorado.

Become an Illuminating Child Care Partner

Download the Illuminating Child Care San Luis Valley Informational Flyer.



1 Cash, S. J., & Wilke, D. J. (2003). An ecological model of maternal substance abuse and child neglect: Issues, analyses, and recommendations. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 73(4), 392-404; Yang, M. Y., & Maguire-Jack, K. (2016). Predictors of basic needs and supervisory neglect: Evidence from the Illinois Families Study. Children and Youth Services Review, 67, 20-26.

Promoting Focused Eye-Hand Coordination

Promoting Focused Eye-Hand Coordination

Infant on back under a mobile, reaching for and looking at a blue and white ball hanging from the mobile

A picture is worth a thousand words! However, focused eye-hand coordination are the four words that come to my mind when I look at this photograph. This picture captures a baby focusing on the objects in front of her and then reaching out for them–a perfect example of focused eye-hand coordination. 

What is eye-hand coordination?

The Head Start Early Childhood Learning Knowledge Center establishes goals for child development in perceptual, motor, and physical behaviors. The fine motor skill goal for children from birth to nine months is that a child “[c]oordinates hands and eyes when reaching for and holding stable or moving objects.” This early fine motor skill development allows children to complete tasks like putting on a mitten, putting puzzle pieces together, or turning the pages of a book later on in their development.

Follow the Leader

Interacting with babies, following the baby’s lead, and introducing age-appropriate activities like eating and playing are a few ways teachers at Illuminating Child Care introduce focused eye-hand coordination to babies through repeated experiences and set a strong foundation for future fine motor skill development.

Child observation is an important part of interacting with babies since they lack spoken communication skills to voice their needs. Observation of the child allows the teacher to determine how to meet their needs and provide care.


When Lead Teachers are observing babies, they are also building teacher-child relationships. These kinds of relationships and early experiences are an important foundation that help babies reach developmental milestones, along with many other positive effects.  

Eyes on the Prize

To follow the lead of the baby pictured above, the caregiver observed the child and knew that the mobile was an appropriate activity for him, so the caregiver placed him on his back under the mobile. Without instruction, he immediately became aware of his environment–focusing, reaching and grasping for the balls on the mobile. 

Research shows that babies aren’t born with an innate ability to perform focused eye-hand coordination activities. The role of the teacher is to create the environment informed by observation, and babies respond by building a repertoire of fine motor skills that strengthen their focused eye-hand coordination as they grow.  

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